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. The film attempts to stare down social issues such as video game culture, anorexia, infidelity, fame hunting, and the proliferation of illicit material on the internet. As each character and each relationship is tested, we are shown the variety of roads people choose – some tragic, some hopeful – as it becomes clear that no one is immune to this enormous social change that has come through our phones, our tablets, and our computers.
Tackling a topic like modern technology is risky. Will the material seem timely, timeless, or too late? Should the subject matter be specific or broad?
Jason Reitman’s latest film, Men, Women & Children, attempts to tackle the Internet as an entity that has shifted the way in which people interact. This collection of loosely connected plot lines takes on the feel of a documentary at time, thanks to occasional narrative from Emma Thompson. The players:
- Don (Adam Sandler) and Helen Truby (Rosemarie DeWitt), a couple who have fallen into a rut, particularly in regards to their sex lives;
- Chris (Travis Tope), Don and Helen’s son, whose addiction to Internet porn has narrowed to specific kinks;
- Hannah Clint (Olivia Crocicchia), Chris’ girlfriend who dreams of being a celebrity, and who posts suggestive photos on a website run by her mother, Donna (Judy Greer);
- Tim Mooney (Ansel Elgort), a popular athlete who quits the football team to play Guild Wars after his mother abandons him and his father, Kent (Dean Norris);
- Brandy Beltmeyer (Kaitlyn Dever), a girl Tim expresses interest in whose mother, Patricia (Jennifer Garner) monitors her texts and social media accounts;
- and Allison Doss (Elena Kampouris), an anorexic cheerleader who uses “thinspiration” websites to support her disorder.
There’s plenty of overlap with most of the characters, with only Allison feeling slightly out of place. The core of each storyline ultimately revolves around relationships, though, and while modern technology does have an influence on how the storylines play out, each one has some roots in a larger part of history. To emphasize this, the use of on-screen bubbles to capture text messages decreases as the movie progresses.
By and large, the film takes on a restrained tone. In regards to the cast, that includes Sandler, who actually seems to be putting in effort for the first time in years. The best examples come from Elgort, Norris and Dever, whose storylines tend to involve the most human-to-human contact. If there’s one sour note, it’s the involvement of Patricia. I can’t blame Garner for it; the character is just stereotypical of any overly concerned parent.
Where the film falters is its ending. While some of the storylines are wrapped in a satisfactory manner, I found the ones involving the Trubys in particular to need a little more resolution. It’s a minor complaint, though. While not quite on the level of Reitman’s initial string of films, it does mark an improvement over Labor Day.
One minor character is gay. In an unrelated scene, some derogatory terms for gays are used by bullies at one point.