REVIEW: Men, Women & Children

16 12 2014

In 2009, Jason Reitman added a potent subplot to his film “Up in the Air” that dealt with some of the alienation people feel in a depersonalized, technology-laden society.  Five years later, he arrives with “Men, Women & Children,” a dark and moody spiritual cousin to his masterpiece.  It goes beyond the obvious stating that people live text message to text message or email to email.  Underneath it all, they are clearly living orgasm to orgasm.

Reitman finds a new writing partner, Erin Cressida Wilson, to adapt Chad Kultgen’s novel, which is perhaps the only truly honest novel about the realities of living in a digitally mediated society.  The story follows a group of teenagers and their parents, each age group struggling with the temptations of carnality made available at their fingertips.  They all seek intimacy, a rarity in a sea of screen addicts, yet cannot seems to escape their enmeshed existence in the World Wide Web.

It seems as if Reitman, likely by commercial imperatives, had to pull some punches and soften the impact of his film.  How blistering can an excoriation of an Internet pornography obsessed society be if those toxic images are never shown?  How shameful can sexual deviance feel if the acts themselves are artfully avoided?  Reitman did not have to go full NC-17 to make an effective film on this topic, and “Men, Women & Children” suffers from his cautious moves.

Still, the message gets across pretty clearly, provided the audience can put down their iPhones for two hours to listen to it. For once, the youth are neither a fountain of hope nor a convenient object for blame; they are just exploring normal curiosities in the same way that their chief role models did.  In fact, the adults of “Men, Women & Children” are every bit as clueless and juvenile in cyberspace as their kids.  Society is all in this battle together, and no one is above it because it brings out the worst in everyone.

Ansel Elgort Men Women Children

“Men, Women & Children” trots out the usual middle-class malaise for sensational play.  The kids get to deal with eating disorders, bullying, and dangerous sexual exploration, while their parents struggle with extramarital affairs, the perils of vicariously living through their offspring, and helicopter parenting.  No one of them, not even Jennifer Garner’s shrilly overprotective mother Patricia Beltmeyer, is a chorus speaking on behalf of the filmmaker.  They speak for themselves, and thus also for everyone watching them, too.

Amidst an ensemble that includes Adam Sandler, Rosemarie DeWitt, J.K. Simmons, Dean Norris, and Judy Greer, one tender soul manages to break through and fully connect.  That would be Ansel Elgort as Tim Mooney, an introverted teen who is the only male in “Men, Women & Children” that follows the beat of his heart rather than the pulse of his penis.  Tim seeks community and fulfillment online, not to realize his libido but rather his true personality.

He even manages to find another girl at his school, Kaitlyn Dever’s Brandy Beltmeyer, who also seeks self-actualization by role-playing through digital avatars.  Amidst a horde of self-destructive peers and parents, their delicate flame becomes the faintest source of hope in the film.  It is not much, sure, though its reaffirmation of the need for human connection helps ensure that “Men, Women & Children” is not just a scary diatribe against the menace of the Internet.

The film’s impact is not nearly as devastating as Kultgen’s book, but the effects of its tragic story linger far longer than a Snapchat.  “Men, Women & Children,” warts and all, is still an important signpost for what it was like to live in 2014.  It rings with an approximated honesty that often hits painfully close to home.  B+3stars

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5 responses

16 12 2014
CMrok93

It’s not a perfect movie, but when it hits its mark, it more than connected with me. Especially with Elgort’s subplot/performance. Good review Marshall.

16 12 2014
Caz

Love reading reviews that are the total opposite of mine, I hated the film massively. But great to see that you took things from it. I was so disappointed as well, as I adore Up in the Air.

16 12 2014
Marshall

Always interesting when it seems like you saw a completely different movie than someone else. I don’t love it enough to passionately defend it but really just don’t think it merits some of the disgusting vitriol aimed at it.

17 12 2014
Brittani

You liked it a bit more than I did. It had so much potential, but I couldn’t stop comparing it to Disconnect, which I liked a lot better.

17 12 2014
Marshall

I didn’t see Disconnect. That one looked preachy, which I know is a complain a lot of people leveled at MWC. Is that one worth checking out?

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