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Men, Women & Children is timely, but director Jason Reitman's overbearing approach to its themes blunts the movie's impact.
Men, Women & Children is timely, but director Jason Reitman's overbearing approach to its themes blunts the movie's impact.
All Critics (133)
| Top Critics (38)
| Fresh (43)
| Rotten (90)
| DVD (1)
Men, Women, & Children curates the world of technology into a tiny sliver of only the most outlandishly evil elements, and pretends that perspective is reason for despair.
What a fantastically unwholesome situation it all is, and yet interestingly this film is both a melodramatic intensification of real-life web addiction, and also a cautious dilution.
As the narratives build toward their predictable conclusions, "Men, Women & Children" seems wholly unaware that these various evils existed long before Facebook and Instagram.
"Men, Women & Children" is crowded with characters and subplots, a few of which resonate - but more often, an individual's story seems lost in the cyberflurry.
It's like a collection of shared and traded Instagram posts. Revealing the telling moments of individual lives in snapshots leaves an itch to dig deeper.
In trying to be a big, important movie, "Men, Women & Children" is about none of the above.
Moving and intense, Men, Women, and Children manages to make us confront uncomfortable realities about ourselves, while also reassuring us that we can also be good people.
Men, Women, & Children is the latest of the cinematic thinkpiece new wave, a food-for-thought lesson in didacticism that, in its attempt to capture the multiple dimensions that technology adds to our lives, ends up seeming more like a flat morality tale.
The entire cast all turn in first-rate performances, as Reitman has given us a finely executed and fascinating cautionary tale that leaves lots of food for thought.
It's the kind of movie where you wouldn't be surprised to discover Reitman and co- writer Erin Cressida Wilson were ticking the boxes on a literal checklist.
(Writrer-Director) Reitman indicts our society, which has become not just wired but thoroughly trussed up. He comes down too hard, though, on the one character who is perceptive enough to see from the start where all this connectedness is heading.
If Reitman's aim was to push buttons, make us think, and give his cast a stage for some stellar performances, he's succeeded wildly.
I really hated the voice over and the documentary stuff, and it's very heavy handed on the evils of the internet, but fine for a Netflix watch. Made a nice change to see Adam Sandler play a serious role for a change too.
Reitman seems to have many ideas but can't find a central point for them, and so he shoots in every direction with this loose, superficial drama that falls flat with a silly, artificial execution and frustratingly hollow questions about technology, internet, solitude, lack of dialogue, etc.
Jason Reitman was a director on the hottest of hot streaks with Hollywood. His first three films (Thank You for Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air) were hits but also an ushering of a new creative voice that felt mature, engaging, and immediate. His 2011 film Young Adult was divisive but I loved its nihilistic narcissism and satire. It looked like this guy couldn't miss. Then in the span of less than a year, Reitman released Labor Day and Men, Women, and Children, two surprisingly misguided movies. Men, Women, and Children aims to be a Crash-style mosaic of modern-life in the digital age, but what it really feels like is a twenty-first century Reefer Madness.
The movie feels like it was made in the 1990s, like it should be a companion piece to the equally over-the-top and alarmist Sandra Bullock thriller, The Net. The movie's thesis statement amounts to "the Internet is dangerous," but this is a statement that everyone already acknowledges. The ensuing evidence from Reitman is so scattershot, so melodramatic, and so cliché-ridden, that it feels like an inauthentic lecture that is already past its effectiveness. Firstly, did you know there is porn on the Internet? I hope you weren't standing up when I dropped that bombshell. The film posits that because pornography is widely available with a few keystrokes, it has desensitized (primarily) male sexuality. It presents a slippery slop scenario, where the user more or less forms an addiction to online porn and has to keep going to more extreme places to chase that new high. This leads to their inability to accept their imaginations for pleasure or actual flesh-and-blood females. It's not like Men, Women, and Children is a case study, but this feels like the same alarmist rhetoric that's been hashed since the 1970s. The characters are allowed to have their lives ruined by their pornography addictions, but the storytelling feels particularly disingenuous when it's squared with the film's heavy-handed message.
That core message is about the inability to communicate with the people around us thanks to modern technology meant to connect us 24/7 (oh, the unexplored irony). The message of the movie isn't anything new or profound but it's cranked up to such a comically over-the-top measure. I have no doubt the filmmakers were well-intentioned but their heavy-handed and tin-earned approach is a wild miscalculation that makes the film, and its dire message, more unintentionally funny than meditative.
It also hurts the film's overall thesis/message when there are so many characters and storylines vying for attention. Reitman attempts to cover just about every aspect of Internet ills as if there is a mental checklist. We've got the porn addiction (check), there's also a faltering marriage where both parties seek out online affairs (check), an fixation with online role-playing games (check), exploitation of teenagers for personal gain (check), stilted communication via social media (check), harmful communities encouraging body shaming (check), cyber bullying (check), and let's just throw in genera malaise (check). The plot is stretched too thin by the multitude of storylines, many of which fail to be interesting or find some shred of truth. There are two mother characters in this film that simply do not exist in real-life, at least the "regular" social milieu the film wants to portray. Jennifer Garner's character is so obsessed with her daughter's online life that she literally goes through every text, every tweet, every online post, and is also secretly recording her keystrokes. This militantly paranoid mother is such a broad and farcical caricature of parental concern. At the other end of the spectrum, is Judy Greer's mother, a failed actress trying to vicariously live through her teenage daughter. She's photographing her daughter in provocative poses and outfits with the intent to jumpstart a modeling career, but it sure comes across like jailbait child pornography. There's little chance a character could be this naïve and self-deluded to justify running a pervy website to market her underage daughter. Both of these characters are so removed from relatability that they become the two opposite poles of the film's cautionary message.
I think Reitman was looking for something along the lines of American Beauty, a cutting and engaging suburban satire, but that movie had a group of characters that were fleshed out and given careful attention. The characters in Men, Women, and Children rarely break away from their one-sentence summations. That may be the biggest disappointment. Reitman has been exceptionally skilled at developing characters. However, the people that populate the world of Men, Women, and Children are really just slaves to the film's message, plot points that rarely break away from their overtaxed duties. The teenager characters come across as the better half, especially a budding relationship between the ex-football star (Ansel Elgort, Fault in Our Stars) and Garner's daughter (Kaitlyn Dever, Short Term 12). While their story is still underdeveloped, the actors work toward something that approximates reality, which is sorely missing throughout the movie. Sure, Dever gets to say clunky lines like, "I have a secret Tumblr account. It's the only place where I can be who I am," but at least this storyline goes beyond the obvious. The anorexic teen storyline has a lot of potential, even if she follows the same steps as every disappointing and disillusioning deflowering tale since Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Even the cheating spouses storyline goes slack, taking on the malaise of Adam Sandler's character. The greater irony is that both parties use the same online service, Ashley Madison, to cheat on one another, though only Sandler pays for the service. I'll give you one sense to how poorly developed these characters are. Sandler and Rosemarie Dewitt play Words with Friends in bed. She plays "gaze" (insight: she's feeling undesired), and he responds with the word "sag" (insight: he's feeling a downturn in passion).
To make matters worse, the entire film is taken to new pretentious levels of ludicrousness thanks to the entirely superfluous narration of Emma Thompson. She's a disembodied god commenting on the foibles of these lowly mortals stumbling around, and the narration constantly cuts back and forth to the Voyager satellite and its trek through the outer reaches of our solar system. Huh? Is any of this necessary to tell this story? It creates a larger context that the movie just cannot rise to the occasion. Thompson's narration provides a further sense of sledgehammer irony, with Thompson's detached narration giving added weight to describing pornographic titles. The movie keeps going back to this floating metaphor as if it means something significant, rather than just feeling like another element that doesn't belong muddying the narrative and its impact.
The biggest positive the film has going for it is the acting by the deep ensemble. Nobody gives a bad performance, though Sandler does come across a bit sleepy. The problem for the actors is that a good half of the movie is watching people read or text. Reitman at least gooses up his visuals by superimposing Facebook screens and online texts, but the fact remains that we're watching people type or scroll through the Internet. It's not quite cinematic and feels better suited for a written medium (the film is based on a book by Chad Kultgen). You haven't lived until you watch actors texting for two hours.
At this point in his career, I'm getting worried about the direction Reitman is headed. He started off with four very different but excellent movies, two in collaboration with Diablo Cody. Each was elevated by its careful concentration on character and by its darkly comic worldviews. With Labor Day, Reitman took a sharp left turn into a Douglas Sirk-styled domestic melodrama. It was misguided and corny and could be written off as a momentary misstep. Now with Men, Women, and Children, Reitman has delivered two miscalculated and soapy melodramas that lack any of the acuity and creative voice of his earlier films. Men, Women, and Children especially feels like an alarmist and heavy-handed message about the evils of technology and how its warping modern communication; if the film was better written, had fewer characters, had more relatable characters, ditched the pretentious narration, and focused its scattershot message into something more nuanced or definable, then there might be something of merit here. It's not that the commentary is entirely devoid of merit, but Reitman's overblown approach does him no service. Men, Women, and Children plays out like a hysterical and outdated warning that is too feeble to be effective and too thin to be entertaining.
Nate's Grade: C
Now here is a puzzle for you. Jason Reitman's "Men, Woman, and Children" is one of the most ambitious films I have seen in a very long time, and that reason alone almost kills the film sadly. The first 20 or so minutes of this picture will have you mind-blown, chuckling, and possibly weeping if you are drawn to certain things, but none of that really pays off in the end which kind of pissed me off. The film builds on so many vague ideas that it almost forgets that it made so many of them by the end and only reveals a fraction of what this film is trying to be. Writing and Directing, Jason Reitman designed a story here, that may have scarily true elements throughout, but it's the fact that he overinflates everything that he thinks is true about the human condition that hurts it. I will say that every actor in this film does their absolute best and Adam Sandler is the most notable for giving a very down-to-earth performance here. These are the types of roles he should be taking nowadays. "Men, Woman, and Children" is a very easy film to admire and even fall for during your experience, but it is just not the immersive digital exploitation film it makes itself out to be. We live in a treacherous universe of sex and digital manipulation, and that broad idea is just not explored to it's fullest potential. I almost want to see a rewrite of this script, because the dialogue works in all the character moments and the actors were chosen very well, but there were some story lines being followed that I just did not care much for by the end. "Men, Woman, and Children" is a missed opportunity, but a great acting showcase for all of these stars and there is an amazing message hidden deep inside this film that you can see, but it is almost laughably deep once reflected upon after the first viewing. An admirable attempt at exploiting our flawed human condition.
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