In an age constantly lit by the backlighting of our screens, it takes a director like Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) to reveal the dark consequences of plugging in and checking out. Men, Women & Children takes a satirical look at how the technology that aims to connect us, is really breaking us down. It's an intense film that asks, "Is it worth it?" without really having an answer.
The film, adapted from Chad Kultgen’s novel by the same title, focuses on the direct juxtaposition of the older, outdated Generation X, and tormented, tech-savvy Generation Y. From the surface, all appears normal for both the parents and the high schoolers. But Reitman makes it his point to reveal some of the eerie truths that could exist in any calm suburban neighborhood. The film’s tagline “Discover how little you know about the people you know,” hits the nail on the head.
Men, Women & Children stylistically screams Reitman. The color palette and low-contrast lighting conveys the passive normalcy of lives we are watching. This is in direct contrast to every instance of technology use, which is bright and futuristically overlaid against the real, monochrome world.
My only real criticism stems largely, and understandably, from taking on the ambitious task of connecting multiple plot-lines. In the last few years, audiences have been subjected to a number of films that simply throw together multiple stories with a large ensemble cast and hope for the best. Luckily, this is not the case with Men, Women & Children, but it is not totally exempt from the same issues. At times one of the stories might be a little weak or scattered, but that’s to be expected when the focus shifts so frequently. To Reitman’s credit, the pacing of the film is still great considering the number of stories he’s telling.
As far as actors go, there were a few standout characters while the rest still managed to hold their own. Of course, holding your own against a myriad of other A-Listers, or soon-to-be A-Listers is a feat in itself. Surprisingly, in a movie that centers on social media, texting, and the internet in general, the technologically challenged adults stood out a bit more than their teenage costars.
Two standout performances, in my opinion, came from Don (Adam Sandler) and Helen Truby (Rosemarie DeWitt). There’s something about seeing Sandler, the famous funnyman, in the role of a subdued, porn-obsessed husband/father that is almost too real. His character provides levity in an otherwise dark film. Sandler proves in Men, Women & Children that he and his talent have matured, and can be performed in a great way. DeWitt, on the other side of their broken marriage, plays more than just a misguided housewife. Her character is complex and sympathetic. They make it easy to empathize with their struggles, and understand their choices despite their amoral implications.
Probably the most memorable, and not necessarily in a great way, was Jennifer Garner’s character Patricia Beltmeyer. Patricia is every teen’s worst nightmare. She’s a parent who obsesses over every keystroke that her daughter (Kaitlyn Dever) makes. Terrifying. In an almost Joffrey Baratheon-esque style, Garner is so good at being an overbearing parent that it makes you hate her. While watching, I wasn’t sure if I should consider this a huge testament to her acting chops, or see her inability to evoke any positive emotions from the audience as a bad thing. After 30 seconds of sitting on that thought, I realized that it's Jennifer Garner, so the former must be true. The insufferable act of watching her character onscreen was intentional and scary good.
The younger members of the cast each show the varying degrees of numbing emptiness resulting from the pervasiveness technology. Whether it is the disappointing reality of sex or body image, or just a general disinterest in the world around them, these kids are messed up. I imagine that viewers will especially enjoy Ansel Elgort playing Tim Mooney; the jock turned gamer who struggles to shirk the identity that his friends and father (Dean Norris) have created for him.
One big takeaway from Men, Women & Children is that, while technology might enhance certain unfavorable qualities in humanity, it is not wholly responsible for them. Infidelity, bullying, depression, and invasion of privacy were all things long before tech came into the game. When it gets down to it, Reitman makes the audience realize that humans are extremely fallible, with or without the internet.
Don’t go into this movie expecting a happy-go-lucky story about the funny, uncomfortable interactions between teens and parents. The generational gap enhanced by technology, while comical at times, still comes to a head in an extremely stressful and intense way. This movie is grim, but relevant. Perhaps it’s grim because it’s so relevant. Is social media making us more or less social? I guess you'll just have to check it out and decide for yourself!
[Men, Women And Children](movie:1103142) is playing in select theaters as of today, but is set for a wide release on Oct. 17.