MEN, WOMAN & CHILDREN (2014)
Starring Adam Sandler, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, Dean Norris, Kaitlyn Dever, Ansel Elgort, Travis Tope, Olivia Crocicchia, Elena Kampouris, Timothée Chalamet, Katherine C. Hughes, Will Peltz, Dennis Haysbert, J.K. Simmons, David Denman, Shane Lynch, Phil LaMarr and the voice of Emma Thompson.
Screenplay by Jason Reitman and Erin Cressida Wilson.
Directed by Jason Reitman.
Distributed by Paramount Pictures. 119 minutes. Rated R.
As a director, Jason Reitman’s career started off way up in the stratosphere. His first four films – Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air and the way-underrated Young Adult – ranged from very good to flat-out terrific. The sky seemed to be the limit for this talented young second generation director. (His dad Ivan had directed such classics as Meatballs, Stripes and Ghostbusters.) If anything, Jason seemed to have more depth than his father, certainly more ability to work in different complex genres and story styles.
Last year’s stumble with the overtly maudlin period piece Labor Day was the first warning that all that Jason Reitman touched would not turn to gold. However it was reasonable to assume that every artist will occasionally find themselves mired in the wrong project. Labor Day was a tiny, intimate film that was not difficult to overlook, leaving us to believe it was just a bump in the road of Reitman’s career.
It will not be so easy for us to write off Men, Women & Children. This film is obviously trying to be a big statement to the modern world. In it, Reitman and an all-star cast are determined to blow the lid off of the Internet, social media and texting.
The men, women and children of Men, Women & Children spend all of their time on sites that promote pornography, adultery, prostitution, violence, anorexia, laziness, sado-masochism, suicide, soft-core pedophilia and all manners of social disconnect. These people cannot communicate with each other. They spy on each other. They have complete conversations via text, even when they are right near each other.
To paraphrase Louis, the gendarme in Casablanca: I am shocked… SHOCKED… to find out these things are going on here.
Yes, the internet is a big, bad dangerous place. And yes, there is probably a good film to be made about this subject. Unfortunately, Reitman and co-writer Erin Cressida Wilson have taken a completely out-of-touch scolding tone. They come off like a new millennium equivalent of the old squares who used to warn about the dangers of rock and roll music. Or, even worse, like a newfangled version of Reefer Madness.
Because of this strident tone, the film, which actually does have some very intriguing characters and situations, just can’t get its points across. It also doesn’t help that there is an ongoing narration by Emma Thompson discussing the space probe Voyager, reminding us that once upon a time technology was used for research and the betterment of mankind, not just for setting up a booty call or trolling people.
In fact, the most deluded and dangerous character in Men, Women & Children is the one character who is most concerned about the dangers of the internet. Patricia (Jennifer Garner) is a mother who is light years beyond “tiger mom” or “helicopter parent.” She obsessively monitors every interaction of her smart, sweet and arty young daughter Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever), regularly sweeping her web history, checking her social media accounts, sweeping her cell phone and reading out printed transcripts of the girl’s every keystroke.
Don and Helen (Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt) are unhappily married 40-somethings. He’s addicted to internet porn and eventually upshifts into hiring escorts online. She’s looking for a connection on a site which sets up extramarital flings. And their 15 year old son has gotten into such kinky fringe websites that normal sexual relations with girls in school are not enough for him.
Sandler’s serious deficiencies as an actor – his apparent inability to display any emotion but numbed indifference – are exacerbated by the fact that he has to play most of his scenes up against the terrific DeWitt, who acts rings around him.
Then there is Joan (Judy Greer), a stage mom who is determined to make her gorgeous young daughter Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia) become the star that Joan never could be. Therefore she becomes a willing co-conspirator in setting up a website for the 16 year old that skirts a little too close to kiddie soft-core for comfort – no nudity but lots of suggestive bikini and underwear shots.
One of Hannah’s best friends is Allison (Elena Kampouris), a formerly big girl who has been visiting anorexia sites to get thin enough to be noticed by the older boy (Will Peltz) she has a crush on.
Finally there is Kent (Dean Norris), the recently-divorced father of the depressive former local football star (Ansel Engort) who quit the team when he got caught up in an internet roleplaying game.
These characters cross and double-cross each other in the suburbs of Austin, Texas, spending most of their time typing on their devices or staring at their phones. (Shocking as it may seem, sitting at a computer or texting are not particularly cinematic endeavors.) They fall in and out of love, have sex, hurt each other and avoid each other, all the while we are seeing a multitude of text messages (misspelled, natch…) filling the screen.
Most of the actors are actually quite good here. Judy Greer in particular makes her character much more sympathetic than the screenplay does. Dean Norris has a nice winsome touch when not playing a criminal and most of the kids are very natural actors.
You just kind of wish Reitman had come up with something a little more interesting for them to do.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2015 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: January 11, 2015.