Directed by: Jason Reitman
Starring: Kaitlyn Dever, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ansel Elgort, Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Emma Thompson, Judy Greer, Dean Norris
Every generation has its moral panic. In the '50s, parents feared rock 'n roll and horror comics would turn their teens into delinquents. In the '80s it was horror movies and heavy metal. Today it's the far less exciting topic of internet addiction. Like all moral panics, it's founded in ignorance and backed by a right wing puritanical press. Yes, it's a shame that kids spend all their time shut away indoors, but that's a situation that came about as a result of previous moral panics. Teens no longer have the freedom to enjoy the outdoors because once they congregate in a group they find themselves immediately moved on by the police. Likewise, it's no longer acceptable to strike up a conversation with a stranger in public, so dating sites, once considered the sole domain of 'losers', have become the most common way to meet people. If we're all spending too much time on the internet, it's because we've created a society that no longer allows us to behave like human beings in the real world.
Jason Reitman's latest reactionary movie ignores all this in favour of a simplistic luddite agenda, blatantly rewriting history in the process, as a character makes the ridiculous claim that 9/11 is the reason Americans own cellphones. "We didn't have cells before 9/11," claims Don, the bored husband played by Sandler. This reviewer explicitly recalls being bombarded with text messages on that day, having owned a cellphone for several years at that point.
Reitman does for the internet here what Paul Haggis did for racism with Crash. We get a bunch of overlapping characters, all of whom share a troubled obsession of some degree with the internet. There's porn addict Don, who begins hooking up with a pricey call girl after stumbling across an online escort directory. Meanwhile, his wife Helen (DeWitt) is conducting clandestine affairs with men she meets online, spurred on by a random viewing of a commercial for Ashley Madison.com. Just like that, a married couple's relationship is destroyed by brief exposure to the web. Presumably Reitman also believes marijuana use instantly leads to crack addiction.
Then, most awkwardly handled of all, is Joan (Greer) a failed actress who uses the web to sell underwear pics of her 15 year old celebrity obsessed daughter Hannah. She meets divorcee Kent (Norris), whose son Tim (Elgort) spends all his time playing an online game called Guild Wars, despite looking like a young Jeff Bridges. Tim meets fellow high-schooler Brandy (Dever), whose paranoid Sarah Palin lookalike mother (Garner) insists on monitoring every single keystroke she makes online. Rounding things out is quarterback Chris, who watches a lot of porn (he's a 15 year old boy who enjoys masturbation; oh the horror!) and Allison, a stick insect teen driven to anorexia by her obsession with online images of stick insect models.
The hypocrisy at play in Reitman's film is quite staggering. The movie constantly critiques the internet, while at the same time featuring blatant product placement for a variety of sites, many of an adult nature. It wants us to feel sorry for Elgort's shut in, but at the same time it pushes an anti-sports agenda by painting football players as stereotypical aggressive, moronic jocks. Worst of all is the anorexia subplot, as Reitman fills his movie with a cast of teens who all resemble catalogue models. Despite being set in Texas, infamously known as the fattest state in the US, there isn't one teen on display here who resembles the average American high schooler.
To add to the air of pomposity, Emma Thompson provides a Godlike voiceover, telling us just where we're going wrong as humans like a Greek chorus of headmistresses. Reitman closes the film by having Thompson recite Carl Sagan's 'Pale Blue Dot', a poem he seems to have misinterpreted, like Elgort's moapy teen, as a statement on the insignificance of humanity. The fact that we know our planet resembles a pale blue dot when viewed from the edge of the solar system tells us just how significant we are, and at some point in the near future, one of those technology obsessed teens Reitman is so critical of will take us beyond our solar system.
Like the films of Sofia Coppola, this is a portrait of average American teens drawn by a filmmaker who had a far from average upbringing. The kids are alright Jason, leave them be.
By Eric Hillis