You could call Me You Madness a “female-driven American Psycho.” In fact, the movie would likely be smugly pleased if you made such a comparison. It would happily do you one better. As the over-bearing, ludicrous voiceover from the film’s central figure, Catherine Black (Louis Linton, who also directs, produces, and co-writes), attests, this is a high concept film which is familiar yet oh so unique. That’s right, the film itself tells you how special and great it is going to be. Right off the bat. (It will later explicitly refer to the screenwriters as geniuses, just because they understand how to implement a comedic callback).
Black is a self-described beautiful genius. She runs a massively successful hedge fund. She is a stock market guru. She literally gets off on watching stock market numbers move in her favor. She lives in the lap of luxury in an isolated Malibu estate. Her IQ is 173. And she is a serial killer.
When Tyler, a thief and con man (Ed Westwick), answers her call for a “roommate,” the game is afoot. After giving Tyler a grand tour, Black drugs him, sleeps with him, butters him up in the morning, and then…well, there’s about an hour of movie left after that. Things happen, just…slowly.
Linton, as much of the discourse around this film makes clear, is married to former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin. And as a Forbes profile of Linton observed, the mixed critical response to the film amounted to some good reviews and some bad ones “undoubtedly colored by people’s perceptions of Linton’s political adventures.” That survey leaves little room for negative critical reception not having to do with Linton’s politics. But I can say quite confidently that I have no opinion on Linton’s political affiliations. And the identity of her spouse has no bearing on my opinions of Linton as a filmmaker or actor. I just think Me You Madness is a bad movie.
Me You Madness has a number of flaws. Some are more excusable than others. The ugly commercial aesthetic, for one, makes sense for what is an apparent satire of patriarchal capitalism (or is it?). It is that glossy look that somehow appears both wildly too lavish yet utterly and abysmally flat. Linton’s performance, similarly, is a fit for this mold even as it is effectively charmless.
On the other hand, two major flaws keep this film from ever leaving the launchpad. First and foremost is the aforementioned voiceover—truly an irreconcilable issue from start to finish. It is overtly an attempt to poke fun at this character archetype—the sociopathic, ultra-savvy yuppie suit (again, just think Patrick Bateman mixed with any femme fatale character of your choosing). But it makes not just the character, but the script itself, come off smug and self-satisfied. The opening of this film—what feels like 20 minutes of continuous voiceover—blatantly explains the entirety of Black’s character while also propping the film itself up as something uniquely clever and incisive. Black is speaking about herself, but she might as well be soliloquizing about the film she exists within (or rather, the screenwriters’ perception of it)—genius, vibrant, one of a kind.
This leads to the second major pitfall of this film. Me You Madness is doing something, that is clear. But the focus of its biting satire is less clear. Do Linton and co-writer Kristen Ruhlin revere Black and loathe the world she exists within? The “little guy” in this story, socioeconomically speaking, is Tyler, yet there is nothing particularly likeable in his depiction (despite his elaborate dance sequence to The Pointer Sisters’ “I’m So Excited;” it’s the high point of the film). Black, meanwhile, is given so much cheeky dialogue and monologues directly addressed to camera that she comes off as more of a flawed (if that) hero than a stand-in for capitalist callousness. Of course, if the film is pro-capitalist, then how does a character with self-described sociopathy do this stance any favors?
So maybe this is simply a farcical pastiche of the genre. A commentary on the tired nature of the white collar crime thriller. Maybe? I’m grasping at straws here. Again, the script thinks it is smarter than all of those films, deriding their cliches in an awkwardly-staged montage about the coolness of Hollywood violence (I’m torn on how to assess the “gun in movie = cliche” argument. The very existence of a gun in cinema is a cliche? Seems overly broad).
Whatever the aim, the focus is consistently muddled. Black’s voiceover will in one moment scoff at the incompetence of male entitlement; in the next, it will scoff at the “PC police” while claiming that female-on-male sexual misconduct is “f—— hilarious.” The film is bored with cinematic cliches, yet it exists within a landmine field of cliches which it is more than happy to step all over. Not to mention the almost non sequitur interjections by Black regarding things as disparate as keeping pets in a locked car during a hot day and the cost of inmates on California taxpayers.
In any case, by the time we get to the second half, the film transposes into being a pure farce. A tiresome one, at that. The comic bits border on Looney Tunes slapstick, things like Black hitting a man with a tennis racket and saying, “Suck it, Maria Sharapova” and one of her potential victims threatening to pour red wine all over a white couch (sorry, sofa) if she tries to murder him. And it is all underscored by the most obvious of ’80s chart-toppers (excessive needle drops are the bane of contemporary cinema).
There is a single moment, near the end of the film, when Black and Tyler sing a few lines of “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” And in that moment, everything approaches a workable focus. The events come together to form a brief glimpse at tonal clarity, where one can see what this film could have been. The self-awareness of its comedy works here, and the characters acknowledgement of their own farcical actions is much more effective than when they break the fourth wall. Then, just as quickly as it arrives, the clarity disappears in a flash. Like an extinguished candle releasing its smoke into the wind. Then, the film returns to its insufferable delusions of comedic grandeur.
In the end, the film preaches to its audience that, you know what, we should all just be a little bit kinder to our neighbors. Perhaps, in a more focused movie, this would read as a perfect button on a satire of Hollywood’s propensity toward depictions of violence. But in this one, it reads more like if someone punched you in the face and then told you that bullying people is wrong.
Me You Madness: D
As always, thanks for reading!