Men, Women and Children **1/2 (out of five)
In 2012 Henry Alex-Rubin directed the Robert Altman-esque Disconnect, a multi-character, multiple-storyline (MCMS) piece examining the way the internet was simultaneously connecting us and disconnecting us. Like many, many MCMS films that aren’t made by Robert Altman, Paul Thomas Anderson or Alejandro González Iñárritu , it had some issues in bringing its characters together in any believable way, but it was pretty good, and much better, more incisive, and far more entertaining than Jason Reitman’s Men, Women and Children, which is remarkably similar, not nearly as good, and, at four minutes longer, feels forty minutes longer. Reitman had a dream run of four modern classics: Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up In The Air and Young Adult, but Men, Women and Children is not anywhere close to their league.
Like Disconnect, Men, Women and Children looks distrustfully at the internet – and smartphone texting in particular – as it relates to family life, particularly amongst parents and teenagers, and particularly relating to sex. It is preachy and didactic, with a lot of the dialogue existing purely to push the technological references to the fore, leaving a terrific cast feeling very shallow.
Jennifer Garner has the worst role, as a mother so scared of the internet that she monitors every single text, message, email, emoji, swipe, blurt, zap and phlap her teen daughter receives, sends, logs into or simply smells. Notice there’s no “tweet” in that rather facetious list. Facebook is often mentioned in the film but Twitter never is. Tumblr, yes; Instagram, no. At one point one of the parents, to express their out-of-touchness, mentions “MySpace”. Yet the movie, almost simply by the fact that it takes time to make a movie and get it into cinemas (especially if it’s based on a novel, as this one is) can’t help but suffer from the same problem. Personal tech is moving just too fast to comment on it incisively in this format.
Spike Jonze’ excellent film Her managed to avoid such fuddy-duddy’s by setting itself in the near future. Reitman’s film, set today, feels like yesterday. Like, sooo yesterday. But it’s not helped at all by a cold script that really doesn’t invite us to feel for any of the myriad characters, really indulgent editing, and a too-obvious soundtrack desperate to tell us what to think and, always worse, how to feel. There are moments that are illuminating about certain aspects of teen behaviour, but they’re wrapped in a really dull package. Adam Sandler gives an unusually subdued and competent performance as a tired, bored Dad; that that is the film’s most intriguing element is a shame.