Starring: Rosemarie DeWitt, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, Ansel Elgort and Kaitlyn Dever
Directed By: Jason Reitman
Running Time: 119 minutes
Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Before the lights are dimmed and the movie begins, nearly every single person was looking at a smartphone, whether it is their own or simply sharing with the person next to them. They sat still with their fingers plugging away at a text or simply transfixed by a viral video. Some played mindless games while others, like me, were checking Twitter. It wasn’t always like this. I remember entering a movie theater and having to have a interpersonal conversation while easy movie trivia flashed on the screen. Things are different now, our lives, communication and feelings are all affected by technology and “Men, Women & Children” gives us a blunt look at its influence.
First we meet Don (Adam Sandler) who’s sexually dissatisfied in his marriage and resorts to Internet pornography to service his needs. His wife Helen (DeWitt) is also unhappy, but has yet to find a way to service her needs. Their son is also setting himself up for a life of porn addiction and a fervent discipline for touching himself. The other kids at school are slightly saner. There’s Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia), who gloats about her sexual conquests, and aspires to be a model. Her mom, Joan (Greer), supports these dreams and aspirations in the creepiest way possible, helping her daughter set up an online website to upload risqué photos.
The craziest parent, believe it or not, is the one who stalks her own daughters every cyber movement and reads through page after page of online chat. Patricia (Garner) believes the Internet is a vast, scary, and dangerous place for her daughter, Brandy (Dever), needless to say, is a social outcast at school because her life is under a miscroscope. Oddly enough, she draws the attention of Tim (Elgort). He’s lost meaning in life, recently quitting the football team and finding comfort in his online gaming friends on the massive multiplayer game, Guild Wars. His mom abandoned him and his dad, and as much as he’d like to still talk with her, she blocks on him on social media to prevent his prying eyes from seeing her fabulous new life without them. He doesn’t get much in the way of comfort from his Guild Wars pals who respond to his maternal predicament with “is she DTF?” (I’ll let you look that chat speak up for yourself if you don’t know what it means)
It may seem like a lot to handle (I know trying to explain it was), but Reitman weaves it all smoothly. He manages to give us a contemporary, albeit crude, look at a dysfunctional nuclear family, the overbearing parent, the single parent balancing their own personal despair and their child’s misery, eating disorders, and how these have changed as we’ve evolved from face-to-face talking to texting. It’s not a red flag of danger on where we’re headed, but more of a reminder that we can still be cruel, insensitive and clueless no matter what the means of communication are.
Instead of fixing their marriage and finding that old spark (or Hell, even divorce), Helen turns to online adultery and Don finds an escort through a website. It’s not a condemnation of these websites; married people aren’t the only ones who use these kinds of websites. It’s pointing out how the means to cheat have been filtered through a different way. The old form of peer pressure for students now comes through online help forums and websites pressuring young girls into a particular body image or thought process. Even the classic teen romance bubbles through talking on Tumblr, but the traditional means of affection remain intact. Technology has yet to replace human contact…yet.
“Men, Women & Children” has a bizarre ensemble cast, but I may only be saying that because this is Adam Sandler’s second dramatic role in a career spanning way too many fart jokes. Elgort shows off his range by become a sullen woeful soul, a complete opposite of his charismatic and witty character in “The Fault in Our Stars”. Dever, who I haven’t seen in anything else to my knowledge, is really good here along with Garner who seems borderline psychotic. I would have loved to see more interactions between those two. There’s simply not enough time to go too far into their lives, but I had an feel that this kind of movie could easily be transcribed into television format in today’s golden age of TV dramas.
“Men, Women & Children” is an Instagram snapshot into our digital lives, which runs the risk of being dated within a matter of years. Its social observations are long lasting though. It’s definitely a conversation starter about a topic that needs to be talked about before we fall into the archetypes we seen in this movie. Something tells me it won’t though. As soon as the first line of credits began rolling upwards, people immediately whipped out their smartphones.
There’s simply not enough time to go too far into their lives, but I have a feeling that this kind of movie could easily be transcribed into television format in today’s golden age of TV dramas.