MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN
Director: Jason Reitman
Starring: Jennifer Garner, Adam Sandler, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ansel Elgort, Dean Norris, Judy Greer, Emma Thompson, Olivia Crocicchia, Kaitlyn Dever
Jason Reitman has been known to tackle a variety of hot-button subjects like teen pregnancy (Juno), corporate layoffs (Up in the Air), and Stockholm syndrome (Labor Day). This time he tackles the idea of living in a world where we are constantly connected and plugged into our social presence on the internet. He has gathered an interesting cast for this multi-layered ensemble film of intersecting stories. We have seen directors like Paul Thomas Anderson and Quentin Tarantino make similar types of movies.
High school students are constantly receiving texts, photos, Facebook messages, and Tweets that inevitably affect the outcome of their day. It has taken the societal pressures of looks, attention, and sexuality to another level. Hannah Clint (Crocicchia) is the attractive cheerleader always posing for the next photo opportunity. Her mother (Greer) enables this sort of objectification of her daughter by taking borderline elicit photos of her and posting them on her “acting” website. Tim Mooney (Elgort) quit the football team after his mother left him and his dad (Norris). He tries to combat his depression by making friends with the people in his online video game. He continually receives flak from his dad and classmates for quitting the team. Don (Sandler) and Helen’s (DeWitt) marriage is not what it used to be. Their waning sex life forces them to turn to alternative options. She creates an online dating account, while he uses an escort service. Their son is addicted to online porn which affects his real life relationship or lack thereof. Brandy’s (Dever) mother Patricia (Garner) is the strictest mother of them all. Patricia has complete access to her social media sites and tracks Brandy’s interactions as well as her physical move by using the GPS in her phone. Of course, it’s all for the “love and protection” of her daughter.
Reitman sets the world in place by filling the hallways of the high school and mall with text bubbles, photos, and messages appearing above the characters giving the impression that, instead of school and their education, the students are far more obsessed and focused on whatever social notification they are receiving at any given moment. The always delightful Emma Thompson provides some under-used narration along the way. She never appears in the film, but her narration primarily bookends the film and appears randomly throughout describing the state of our society and the illicit thoughts of the characters. Another cinematic choice Reitman uses are images of the spacecraft Voyager floating through space. Both of these touches serve a point, but aren’t as fully realized and used as effectively as they could be. The narration practically disappears throughout a chunk of the film to which I had forgotten about it until it came back in the final act. When you have someone like Thompson who has such a rich voice, how do you not take advantage and use it to its full potential. Her narration could do more shaping and driving of the story than describing various scenarios. This could also have helped the pace of the film which feels quite slow throughout the middle.
The film is based off the book by Chad Kultgen and is adapted by Reitman and Erin Creddia Wilson. Due to the nature of the story, all of the characters seem to be going through these existential crises leaving a heightened and depressing tone to the film. With some of the characters, you can understand their struggles and their need to fill a void in life. What makes matters worse are some of the horrible adults that are continually making the wrong choice spiraling them and their loved ones into a damaging state. It’s harder to watch these scenes, especially the ones involving Garner and Greer as you just want to scream at them for being awful parents. Unfortunately, I’ve met people in life that are just like them so there is an all too realistic feeling when watching the stage mom or the overprotective mother.
The ensemble Reitman has gathered may give you slight pause at first. I really thought I had given up and was determined I would never see a new Adam Sandler movie. He had resigned himself to numerous idiotic comedies negating a talented side of him we have seen before in Spanglish and Punch-Drunk Love. Like many comedians before him that turn to a dramatic role, he dons a beard for us to take him seriously. I have to admit, I was pretty impressed by his performance. He reigns in all of his facial expressions to keep everything as simple and honest as possible. Sandler should take note and do more of these types of films over That’s My Boy or Jack and Jill. The real highlight of the film is Judy Greer giving the best performance of her career. She is that actress you will recognize but probably don’t know her name as she constantly always plays funny supporting roles. Just when you think you have her character pegged down, Greer shows another heartbreaking aspect about her. Don’t worry, you still hate her character.
Men, Women & Children has one of the blandest titles of any movie recently, but I blame the author of the book on that. This idea that we are constantly glued to our phones, tablets, or other devices is a hard one to grasp and understand because it is something we don’t want to admit to being guilty of in our everyday life. We are so concerned about being connected to others and knowing what they think about us that it actually distances us from the core people in our lives. There is a scene with Greer and her daughter, played by Olivia Crocicchia, where they are walking in the mall together and both are buried in their phones. They aren’t giving each other the time of day as their phones are obviously far more important. Reitman continues to drive this point home over and over throughout the movie as the destruction of the characters escalates. If you think this sounds melodramatic or made-up, just look around the next time you are at the mall or out for dinner. Take a look at the number of families at a dinner that aren’t talking to each other. It’s a bigger issue than we want to hold ourselves accountable for.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? It is by no means Reitman’s best film, but hopefully it will force people think about their dependence on their phones and social profiles.
RATING: 4 out of 5 TICKET STUBS