Oct 30

“Men, Women & Children”: What the Reviews Say

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.

THE TRAILER:

Jun 06

“The Fault In Our Stars”: Good Reviews for the Film

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. First sentence of the description of John Green’s bestselling book The Fault in Our Stars

About the phenomenon of TFIOS, otherwise known as The Fault In Our Stars, Stephanie Zacharek, Village Voice, has stated: “Colloquial, breezy, and laced with black humor — the adjective ‘cancertastic’ may not yet be part of the dealing-with-cancer lexicon, but it should be — the book is very much loved, and not just by teenagers.”

Indeed, legions of both teens and adults will be going into Josh Boone‘s new movie version of The Fault in Our Stars already knowing basically what they’ll see—a poignant love story laced with inevitable heartbreak.

THE PLOT

Claudia Puig, USA Today:

Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) is a bright and irreverent 16-year-old. Diagnosed with cancer at 13, she has to breathe from a tube connected to an oxygen tank she must carry everywhere. But she will not allow illness to define her.

At the behest of her loving mom (Laura Dern), Hazel reluctantly attends a support group for cancer survivors. Still, Hazel’s biggest passion is losing herself in An Imperial Affliction, a novel by a mysterious Amsterdam-based author.

One afternoon, a new boy stops by the support group. Augustus ‘Gus’ Waters (Ansel Elgort) is a strapping 17-year-old who has lost part of a leg to cancer. He and Hazel share an instant connection, and the whip-smart pair trade barbs, strike up a friendship, then fall in love.

Watch the trailer below:

THE CANCER SUPPORT GROUP

Andrew Barker, Variety: “Her parents (Laura Dern, Sam Trammell) are a loving, lovable pair who worry that Hazel is becoming depressed, as she has no friends and spends her time endlessly rereading reclusive author Peter Van Houten’s postmodern cancer-themed novel, ‘An Imperial Affliction.’ After some insistently gentle prodding, she agrees to attend a weekly church-basement support group hosted by sappy Jesus freak Patrick (Mike Birbiglia).”

HAZEL

Chris Nashawaty, ew.com: “…Hazel Grace, despite a diagnosis of thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs, is nobody’s martyr. She’s a sarcastic straight shooter who has accepted her fate and isn’t ashamed about the tubes under her nose or the unwieldy oxygen tank she has to lug around like a millstone.”

GUS

Stephanie Zacharek, Village Voice: “…a philosophical ex-basketball player with a tendency toward grandiose pronouncements. Just after their first meeting, he shocks Hazel by sticking a cigarette in his mouth — the look on her face says, ‘How could you? Around me, with my crap lungs?’ But his shtick is clenching cigarettes between his pillowy lips without lighting them: That way, he explains, he accepts their power to kill him without granting them the power to kill him.”

THE ROMANCE

Tasha Robinson, The Dissolve:

Hazel’s prognosis sometimes makes her pull away from Augustus, claiming she’s a grenade that may go off at any moment, and she doesn’t want to hurt him when she does. But as a fellow survivor, he has some authority when he keeps gently pushing her to accept him, so patiently and passively that he doesn’t seem stalkerish, but so insistently that his authentic affection for her comes across.

Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair:

As Augustus and Hazel grow closer, they embark on a quest to find out what happens after the ending of Hazel’s favorite book, An Imperial Affliction, written by an ornery recluse named Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe). Their journey takes them to Amsterdam, where they enjoy a wistful, romantic weekend before things get sad again.