Men, Women & Children (Jason Reitman, 2014)
Oooooh what do people get up to behind closed doors with their mobiles and Facebook and video games and porn? This is the premise for apparently risqué and daring new drama, Men, Women & Children but it doesn’t end up breaking any new ground. It’s relatively tame for the most part, and we’ve seen most of this before, except this time social media is involved.
Exploring a bunch of interweaving stories, Men, Women & Children (based on Chad Kultgen’s novel) explores sex and technology in 2013. There’s Don (Adam Sandler) and Helen (Rosemarie DeWitt), a married couple of twenty-odd years who have lost interest in each other and begin to seek passion elsewhere. Their son Chris (Travis Tope) is addicted to porn, and can’t get it up otherwise. He’s interested in Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia), an aspiring teen actress, whose mother Donna (Judy Greer) takes provocative photos of her which are uploaded to a questionable website online. Donna starts dating Kent (Dean Norris) whose wife has recently left him and son Tim (Ansel Elgort) who is addicted to online gaming. Tim leaves his cocoon long enough to meet Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever) who struggles to have a social life because of her overbearing, over-protective mother Patricia (Jennifer Garner). Allison (Elena Kampouris) meanwhile is pining after school heart-douche Brandon (Will Peltz) while battling an eating disorder. And then Emma Thompson narrates it all because she’s Emma freakin’ Thompson. Though to be honest, the narrator role is pretty pointless.
It seems that Jason Reitman is trying to be uber-current by directing and adapting a story that involves social media in the current day, but it really just seems like an adjunct to a story that is essentially about relationships. To be fair, technology does play a major role for many of the characters involved, but few of these are new – how long has porn been around exactly? Of most relevance to this theme is Brandy and Patricia’s story. Jennifer Garner plays EXTREME-MOM with her absolute distrust and suspicion for all technology which is comical until it becomes clear just how bad a parent she is as a result. If anything this storyline highlights the problems in monitoring your kids’ interactions too closely. JUST LET YOUR TEENAGER FACEBOOK IN PEACE!
I was most invested in Allison’s story, which captured the awfulness of being a teenage girl, however I feel her character got somewhat short-changed in the screenplay. She is the only young character whose parents we see very little of – which is a shame because her father is played by J.K. Simmons – and her story didn’t get wrapped up as well as I would have liked. I was pleased to see the inclusion of Pro-ana websites included, though concerned with some audience members’ laughter at the suggestions Allison reads and tries. It wasn’t meant to be comical and this highlighted one of the truly awful things about the internet.
One thing Reitman does do pretty well is casting. I’ve decided that Adam Sandler is actually better in dramas, and not his recent comedies where he pretends to be an idiot for laughs. Jennifer Garner is excruciating in the best way as the over-protective mother from hell. Ansel Elgort will probably get The Fault in Our Stars fans in, but he’s not so much a heartthrob here as he is a broody gamer that has lost much of his previous appeal. I would love to be able to read the conflicted minds of those teenage girls. Maybe Elgort will be the catalyst for teen gamers the world over getting laid. But probably not.
Men, Women & Children is a little contrived (oh really, you happen to walk in at THAT exact moment?) and it doesn’t offer up many new ideas, but the themes involved will always be interesting. Whether we have Facebook or not, teenagers will continue to have their problems, as will their seemingly happy parents. For some light voyeurism, get off your computer and off to the cinema to see this one.