Synopsis: Men, Women, & Children follows the story of a group of high school teenagers and their parents as they attempt to navigate the many ways the internet has changed their relationships, their communication, their self-image, and their love lives.
Release Date: October 10, 2014 MPAA Rating: PG-13
After a string of early success with Juno and Up in the Air, director Jason Reitman has struggled as of late. His most recent films, Young Adult and Labor Day, still tried their best to convey modern themes in unique ways, but Reitman’s ability to tap into the zeitgeist so effortlessly has seemingly faded with each subsequent release. Where his films used to be introspective with a fair bit of quirk, they now feel forced and hokey. Which brings us to Men, Women & Children.
Had Men, Women & Children been made about 10 years ago, audiences would have likely praised Reitman and co-writer Erin Cressida Wilson for their foresight and creativity. But now, Men, Women & Children feels like a cliched attempt at hammering home themes that have been conveyed time and time again. Yes, technology has actually created a disconnect and altered personal relationships rather than bringing people closer, but now most accept that fact. Some films even parody it. This film, on the other hand, tries to make bold, earth-shattering statements with interconnecting stories that are so forced it’s hard to take any of them seriously.
Take the storyline between Tim Mooney (The Fault In Our Stars‘ Ansel Elgort) and Brandy Beltmeyer (Kaitlyn Dever from Short Term 12), for example. Both are teenagers bound by their parents’ expectations – Tim by his father’s need for him to play football and Brandy by her overprotective, privacy-invading mother – who find a connection almost instantly. Both Elgort and Dever are fine actors, who breathe life into otherwise stale material, but there’s no mistaking how tired and trite their story is. It makes it hard to care where the story goes, because you know the obvious message it’s trying to convey. Which is true of almost all the storylines, be it the mother who sells lewd photos of her daughter or the husband and wife who turn to websites to have affairs.
Every actor brings a certain level of confidence to the role they’re playing, and for the most part they are believable as these exaggerated versions of real people. But it’s the writing and the direction that do them in, which is a shame given how talented the cast (young and old) is. Even Adam Sandler turns in a strong performance as the disillusioned husband and father who turns to online prostitution for affection. It’s just a shame the material couldn’t match it.
That being said, Reitman’s talent still shines through in parts, especially in the film’s ability to convey digital concepts like virtual messaging in a natural way. Even the framing device used, which features narration from Emma Thompson over shots of a satellite meant for extraterrestrial communication, has that undeniable Reitman charm. Is it so on the nose it’s kind of cringe worthy? Yes, but still indicative of Reitman’s ability to approach material in fresh ways.
And therein lies Men, Women & Children‘s biggest struggle. While its approach has some worthy punch its material is hardly fresh. It ticks all the boxes of a Lifetime movie released during the late ’90s or early ’00s, not of a 2014 drama. Instead of forcing the audience to look into a mirror and reflect, the film holds up tattered old photos that we’ve seen a dozen times before. Wasting talent is the film’s biggest flaw, though, as most of the actors do step up to some challenging material. Even the younger, lesser-known names put forth performances that are slightly heightened but still recognizable. And Reitman does his best to put a unique spin on themes that only fit today’s culture. Unfortunately, Me, Women & Children comes at a time when those ideas are tired, not prescient.
Regardless of the material, Men, Women & Children‘s script is still well written, plotted, and deserves praise for going full tilt after modern technology’s impact on relationships. Both Wilson and Reitman know how to craft compelling characters and authentic conversations with style. Mind you, this is not Juno or even Up in the Air, but it’s still hard to deny Reitman’s knack for stories that have their own unique flair. Unfortunately, that flair doesn’t stand up to the storylines or themes, which are mildly engaging but fall well short of their intended goal. For that matter, the film is trapped in a very small time capsule, where many of the stories will start to lose their basic insights as technology evolves. And those storylines that focus on contemporary issues instead of tech are hardly fresh or new either. Anorexia/body image is a serious issue and always will be, but the film uses it for shock value, not to add anything important to the conversation. It’s possible a few tweaks to the tone or maybe ditching a few ancillary plots may have helped the film, but as it stands, Men, Women & Children reads like a thinly connected after school special.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Jason Reitman
- Screenwriter(s): Jason ReitmanErin Cressida Wilson
- Cast: Adam Sandler (Don Truby)Jennifer Garner (Patricia Beltmeyer)Rosemarie DeWitt (Helen Truby) Judy Greer (Donna Clint)Dean Norris (Kent Mooney)Emma Thompson (Narrator voice)Ansel Elgort (Tim Mooney)
- Editor(s): Dana E. Glauberman
- Cinematographer: Eric Steelberg
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA