Title: Men, Women and ChildrenDirector: Jason Reitman
Starring: Rosemarie DeWitt, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, Dean Norris, Adam Sandler, Ansel Elgot, Kaitlyn Dever, Emma Thompson, J.K Simmons, Jason Douglas, Shane Lynch, Dennis Haysbert, Phil LaMarr, Olivia Crocicchia, Elena Kampouris, Travis Tope, Tina Parker, Will Peltz, Kurt Krakowian
Plot: A group of High School Teenagers and their parents attempt to deal with their issues, with the film taking the slant of how they all choose to use the internet and technology to chase their goals and deal with their issues.
Review: After riding high for so long since he made his directorial debut with the sadly now underappreciated “Thank you for Smoking” aswell as the trilogy of films he made with Diablo Cody which lead to the pair affectionately calling themselves “Team Juno”. However despite the success he’s had as a director Reitman remains a director who few people would be able to name a film he directed let alone name him in their top 5 list, which is something of a shame considering how he has constantly produced entertaining and Whitty social satires and here attempts to do the same again, only to stumble at the first fence by choosing to make the internet the focus of this latest film.
The problem with choosing to make a film based around technology is that its development moves so fast that by the time the films released its already out of date. At the same time unless you’re making a film dripping in techno babble and flair you risk the audience thinking that you’re in some way talking down to them, which seems to be the main bug bare for those folks who don’t like this movie, feeling it take the luddite approach to how it views the internet and its characters use of it. That being said if you can just get your head around what feels like quite a dated approach to the internet, much like you have to get around characters not knowing how to use the internet in “Perfect Blue” there is actually a lot to enjoy here.
Opening on Don played here by Adam Sandler giving us one of his rare straight performances, as he uses his son’s computer to search for porn, while Emma Thompson’s gives her opening narration while her well-spoken British accent only adds a unintentional comedic edge to the scene much like many of the scenes in which her sporadically used narration appears throughout the film. Don’s porn use we soon discover is part of his attempts to deal with the issues in his marriage to Helen (DeWitt). The pair soon choosing to find their own solutions with Helen opting to use “Ashley Madison” while Don finds satisfaction through escort services. At the same time their son Chris (Tope) finds himself no longer able to get aroused without the extreme porn he’s long since graduated onto as the result of his long term obsession with internet porn. Elsewhere Hannah (Crocicchia) is desperate to be famous, while her mother Joan (Greer) lives her own failed dreams as an actress by now channeling through her daughter, who she takes risqué pictures off for her daughters website unaware of how the pictures are being viewed.
While these main stories are all pretty standard, with the film suprisingly not opting for the same porn shaming angle that “Don Jon” randomly threw at its audience, this is still not a film without a misguided opinion thrown into the mix as here the paranoia aspect of internet usage is represented by Brandy’s (Dever) over-protective mother Patricia (Garner) who remotely monitors her daughters phone and internet usage, even deleting messages from her obsessed gamer boyfriend Tim (Elgot). Tim of course has his own issues like everyone else in the film as he uses an MMORPG to escape the reality of having to deal with the fallout of his parents’ divorce, which lead his to quit as the school star football player and now leaves him the constant target of his former team mates.
As I mentioned already this is a film which needs you to ignore how some of the information is presented and instead view it as more of a connecting plot device, especially when the enjoyment comes from the interactions these characters have and how each other and how their individual stories unfold. At the same time it’s a vein of natural humour which runs throughout with Reitman forgoing his usual Whitty dialogue and instead relies on the charm and performances of his cast to keep the audience’s attention. That being said we do get several darkly comedic moments such as Chris attempting to cure his impotence issues by attempting to have sex with a lubed up football.
The stories themselves are all interesting and while each one focuses on a different aspect of the internet, you never get the feeling that Reitman is trying to make any kind of major statement on the dangers of the internet or how we’ve all become slaves to it now that it has worked its way into never every aspect of our day to day lives. I guess the closest film that I could compare this to would unfortunately be “Crash” only atleast this one does suffer from the same smugness and attempt to pull some kind of surprise revelations like the “We’ll All Racists” revelation that “Crash” tried to pull off. Instead this is a film which wears its messages in plain view and leaves it for the audience themselves to decide on where they stand on the characters actions than trying to drive home any kind of opinion we are supposed to have about any of them.
True this is far from a perfect movie while some moments such as the overly melodramatic suicide attempt by one character, while Garner’s overbearing Patricia at times come off as more of a cartoon villain than a concern parent, especially when she goes into her rant about the danger of online gaming in particular what an avatar is supposed to represent.
While this is far from Reitman’s best film to date, it is equally not as bad as it has unfairly been made out to be, though for newcomers I would recommend starting with one of his earlier films than this one.