It is the year’s scariest film simply because it’s the year’s most realistic: Welcome to your nightmare. Tom Long, Detroit News, about Men, Women & Children
Jason Reitman‘s Men, Women & Children, adapted from Chad Kultgen‘s novel, is about human disconnection in the internet age. One common critique is that too much ground is covered and not well enough.
Andrew O’Hehir, Salon: “It’s partly teenage social realism, midway between a John Hughes movie and Larry Clark’s ‘Kids,’ partly a lecture from somebody’s mom about how no one talks to anyone anymore, dammit, and partly an ‘ironic’ reminder that love can go wrong in so many, many ways.”
Claudia Puig, USA Today: “Though the story initially appears to be headed in a thought-provoking direction, it becomes superficial in its exploration of our online lives. Almost a soap opera, it’s a predictable tale of angst-filled teens and their clueless parents. Think a computer-driven, de-fanged Crash, without the ethnic diversity.”
Ty Burr, Boston Globe: “It’s one of those multi-character morality plays — think ‘American Beauty’ meets ‘Crash’ — and it will play especially well to freaked-out parents, even as it distances itself from them by acknowledging that the kids (most of them, anyway) are all right.”
CHARACTERS AND PLOT
Christopher Orr, The Atlantic, offers a (snarky) synopsis that’s worth reading if you’re interested in knowing all the players:
Try to follow along as best you can. Don (Adam Sandler) and Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) are a married couple deep in the sexual doldrums: He cruises porn on their son’s computer, his own having become irretrievably infected with malware; she and he will both pursue extramarital dalliances online—her, through the cheating site Ashley Madison, him via an escort service. Their son, Chris (Travis Tope), is also addicted to Internet porn, to such a degree that he is unable to respond sexually to the aggressive advances of vixen-y sophomore cheerleader Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia). Hannah is herself an aspiring actress whose single mother, Joan (Judy Greer), is promoting the girl’s career—and pocketing some cash on the side—by publishing racy ‘private photo sessions’ of Hannah for pervy subscribers to her website. Joan becomes involved with Kent (Dean Norris), a father whose wife abandoned him to run off to California with another man.
Still with me? Deep breath:
Kent’s son, Tim (Ansel Elgort), reeling from his parents’ breakup, has quit his starring role on the football team, withdrawn into his room, and devoted his waking hours to the online fantasy game Guild Wars. Tim’s only real-life connection is a tentative quasi-romance with classmate Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever), whose paranoid helicopter mom, Patricia (Jennifer Garner) monitors her every virtual interaction—phone, email, Facebook, browser history—with a line-crossing avidity befitting the director of the NSA. Rounding out the digital horror show is the virginal Allison (Elena Kampouris), an anorexic who gets nutrition tips from a site called www.prettybitchesnevereat.com and who desperately wants to hook up with a jock so telegraphically sleazy that he might as well have ‘sex offender’ sewn across his varsity jacket. Finally, we have J. K. Simmons, who makes a token appearance as Allison’s dad, his only meaningful function being to reprise his Juno role as the Dad Who Finds Out His Underage Daughter Got Pregnant…
MIXED APPRECIATION FOR HOW THE THEMES ARE PRESENTED
Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: “To its credit, ‘Men, Women & Children’ seems to allow for a rational middle ground between technophobic Luddites and the lamentably over-wired. It never turns down the moral panic entirely, but neither does it let it completely boil over.”
A.O. Scott, New York Times:
Mr. Reitman, who wrote the script with Erin Cressida Wilson…has the wisdom to realize that the Internet cannot entirely be blamed for the unhappiness he surveys…At the film’s beginning and its end, an omniscient narrator with the sensible voice of Emma Thompson explains that the root of the problem is that we’re all human.
True enough, but this conclusion undermines the film’s premise, dissolving the thematic glue that holds its stories together and emptying out the lessons it wants to teach. Veering between alarmism and cautious reassurance — between technohysteria and shrugging, nothing-new-under-the-sun resignation — ‘Men, Women & Children’ succumbs to the confusion it tries to illuminate.