“Like it or not, for the moment The Earth is where we make our stand.”
Jason Reitman’s latest film, Men, Women & Children, left me speechless but I don’t mean that in a good way. I was a huge fan of Reitman’s first three films: Thank You for Smoking, Juno, and Up in the Air so I went into this movie with high expectations despite his recent misses with Young Adult and Labor Day. Juno is one of my favorite films so I still look forward to what Reitman is working on next, but I sure hope he teams up with Diablo Cody soon because his scripts lack that sharp and witty dialogue. The greatest problem with this film (which failed to connect with audiences in the theater making less than 1 million at the box office) is that it feels too preachy. Reitman screams out his message about the dangers of social media in the most clichéd ways. First, he establishes several familiar characters that play a certain stereotype with the purpose of getting his message across. For instance you have the over protective mother who is highly exaggerated in the way she controls what her daughter is doing and who she is chatting with, then you have the other extreme where a mother is managing her daughter’s life in order for her to become famous by uploading sexy pictures of her in a website, and finally you have a father who has trouble communicating with his son and basically lays off of him after his wife has abandoned them. These characters all play certain stereotypes and have no personality whatsoever. Reitman also tries to tackle other familiar social issues like porn addiction, unfaithfulness, anorexia, and video gaming by portraying how social media has changed the way we live our lives. The message is heavy handed and we’ve seen it portrayed many times in the past in better films. Another issue I had with Men, Women, and Children is that it lacks subtlety in the way the message should be delivered. It is also heavily one-sided and never tries to portray the positive side of social media. My final complaint has to do with Reitman’s decision of including a voice narration from Emma Thompson with scenes of a satellite traveling across the galaxy showing how small our planet is in the vastness of our universe. It was too ambitious for a film that never feels authentic or groundbreaking.
Perhaps the greatest thing about Men, Women, and Children are the performances from the impressive cast. Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt play a struggling married couple very well. Sandler gives a very restrained performance as he has done in past dramas and once again proves that he has a range when it comes to acting. Reitman could have taken a similar approach with this film and been more subtle and restrained in the way he was trying to deliver the message. Jennifer Garner and Judy Greer are given perhaps the most exaggerated characters in the film so many people might have a problem with their performances, but I thought they delivered strong roles despite the poor material they had to work with. Breaking Bad fans will also be delighted to see Dean Norris on screen again as he delivers in his supporting role. The teens in this film also give convincing performances beginning with Ansel Elgort who is the football star of his High School, but decides to give up on playing the sport and becomes addicted with online video gaming. Kaitlyn Dever, who was great in Short Term 12, delivers once again as the teen whose interactions are overseen by her overprotective mother. Olivia Crocicchia plays the sexy teen who is encouraged by her mother and dreams of becoming famous. Elena Kampouris plays the anorexic teen who is searching for acceptance from her crush. The performances are all solid and despite the fact that there are many different storylines they all get sufficient screen time. The only problem is that they all play familiar stereotypes and I didn’t find a distinct personality in anyone of these characters. They all seem to be playing a specific role in order to deliver a message. J.K. Simmons, who frequently collaborates with Reitman, also has a small role in this film but he is underused. This drama failed to connect with me perhaps because the timing of the film was a bit off and it also lacked subtlety.