Review: Men, Women & Children (2014)

Director: Jason Reitman

Starring: Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Ansel Elgort

Release Date: 5th December 2014 (UK)

Jason Reitman has a recurring theme in his work, albeit a broad one in his quest to narrate, dissect and present modern American life through as many gazes as possible. In his trademark dry comedic style he brings us Men, Women & Children, an underrated drama weaving the lives of multiple characters in the same neighborhood through their engagement with social media.

In a nutshell this is Love Actually meets American Beauty, with the narrative structure of the first but the tone of Mendes’ classic. From the stagnant marriage through the possessive parent to the lonely teen, Reitman’s contribution to this growing cultural commentary attempts to present us with an all-encompassing story within a microcosm of American society. Perhaps he was trying to be too ambitious, but as with any ensemble story there will always be narratives that deserve more screen time. The key to this type of film is creating a thread between each character which is at once tenuous enough to allow each story room to breathe, but related enough not to feel like a string of fragmented short films.

Overall the pacing was judged quite well, which is more a credit to the editor than the director. Ansel Elgort’s character could have easily filled 90 minutes independently, but it would have felt more like a John Green adaptation than a Reitman movie. One of the more engaging character arcs was between Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt, who play a couple trapped in a boring marriage. Both find solace online, the former through escorts and the latter through affair site Ashley Madison – now much more topical than intended. Their relationship is played out in with the sensitivity it deserves, both touching and bittersweet.

On the other hand is Jennifer Garner’s technophobic parent, projecting her fear of the internet onto her daughter and suffocating her social life. This over-protectiveness plays out like something from Misery, and the consequences ultimately have a devastating effect on one of the other characters.

Sometimes the plot moves forward quite jarringly, and it lacks the smooth transition of more polished films such as Up In the Air and Juno. The demands of the script do take their toll in places, but overall Reitman delivers a strong story in a consistently solid way. The run time was spot on, and the resolution was, as expected, satisfying but not entirely pleasant.

This is not an attack on social media, nor is it a celebration; Men, Women & Children is a blunt and deft depiction of American suburbia in the wake of digital revolution. This is a world where Mom takes pictures of her daughter for an online website to get her on a talent show called America’s Next Big Celebrity, where social outcasts find solace in virtual gaming and where one’s traditional moral fiber is challenged by the wireless world.

Men, Women & Children is not Reitman’s best work but is underpinned with oodles of relevance and deserves to be watched.


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