Jason Reitman’s outdated, extremist view on the evils of the Internet overshadows any redeeming qualities in Men, Women, and Children. Although there are truthful elements in each storyline, from extra-marital affairs and eating disorders to young love and helicopter parents, the film leans heavily towards melodrama and over-exaggeration.
The story follows families in an “unremarkable suburb” dealing with different problems in their technology-driven world. Independent of each other, “Helen” (Rosemarie DeWitt) and “Don” (Adam Sandler) turn to online dating and escort services to escape their marital rut, while their 15-year-old son “Chris” (Travis Tope) gets his sexual pleasure in online porn. Meanwhile, Chris’ partner for a school project, “Hannah” (Olivia Crocicchia) is posting scantily clad pictures on her modeling website in the hopes of becoming an actress, or better yet, a celebrity. Hannah’s failed-actress mother “Donna” (Judy Greer) is her Webmaster – snapping pictures, posting them, and more or less pimping out her daughter with “private modeling sessions.” It’s not long until Donna reveals her secret site to her divorcée love interest “Kent,” (Dean Norris) after meeting him at the neighborhood’s Internet safety group.
Kent deals with his own problems, however, and tries to get his son “Tim” (Ansel Elgort) back to normal life after his mother left them for California. When Tim finds out via Facebook that his mom is engaged to a new man, he finds comfort in an online role-playing game and companionship with classmate “Brandy” (Kaitlyn Dever). In the sweetest and most enjoyable portion of the film, Tim and Brandy bond over their similar attitudes towards their less-than-ideal mothers and innocently start to fall for each other. But Brandy’s psychotic, overbearing mother “Patricia” (Jennifer Garner) not only disapproves of the new relationship, but changes every password, reads every text, tracks her moves with a GPS, and digitally disguises herself as her daughter to turn Tim away.
In what is supposed to be a realistic take on overprotective parents, the film goes one step too far – with not only Patricia, but every character, including shy and anorexic “Allison” (Elena Kampouris). Wanting the attention of a pigheaded football player, Allison loses weight rapidly and becomes malnourished. She goes on websites with girls typing away advice on how to avoid eating dinner (i.e. smell the Shepherd’s Pie while gnawing on a celery stalk). Although this is an accurate portrayal of a teenage eating disorder, the film (once again) oversteps its realistic boundaries and has Allison sleep with the football player, brand herself with his name on her pelvic area, and then endure an ectopic pregnancy.
The main draw of Men, Women, and Children is the cast – and rightfully so. Although the A-list stars like Sandler and Garner do a fine job as their respective, unfunny characters, the standout performer is Ansel Elgort as the emotionally unstable “Tim.” Coming off of this year’s teen romance juggernaut in The Fault in Our Stars, Elgort nails his role once again and has even more chemistry with Dever than he did with Stars’ Shailene Woodley. The interactions between the long list of characters felt natural, proving that the pitfalls of technology are not the only thing these people have in common. They interact in person on a frequent basis throughout the film, which does even more to counteract Reitman’s and co-writer Erin Cressida Wilson’s views on how technology is ruining us.
The sweet, heart-wrenching moments of the film are well done, but unfortunately, those moments are clouded by the surrounding extremism. Yes, today’s teenagers are addicted to their phones. But no, not every single person at the mall is staring at their gadgets and not speaking to each other. The film was entertaining and the general ideas were there, but showing the Internet as the source of all evil is an cynical, outdated view that maybe would have worked better a decade ago.
Review © Brigid K. Presecky (10/20/14)
Top Photo: Rosemarie DeWitt as “Helen” and Adam Sandler as “Don”
Middle Photo: Jennifer Garner as “Patricia”
Bottom Photo: Ansel Elgort as “Tim” and Kaitlyn Dever as “Brandy”
Yes. Brandy and her stifling mother Patricia talk about what “protection” means and how being a teenager doesn’t give you the right to any privacy. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Donna and Hannah act more like friends or agent/client more so than mother/daughter. Both relationships are centered on digital problems rather than the men in their lives.