Wesley Emblidge ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Assistant Movies Editor
There’s nothing more disheartening than seeing a director that has made movies you’ve loved embrace some of their worst tendencies and fall into making movies you can’t stand. Jason Reitman has made some of the sharpest, wittiest dramedies of the past decade, but with last year’s romantic drama Labor Day and now the techno-cautionary tale Men, Women & Children he has descended into making tone-deaf movies without the kind of interesting characters that made Thank You For Smoking or Up in the Air so engaging.
The film takes the approach of Crash (or any number of other ensemble vignette dramas) with multiple interconnected storylines trying to take down an issue. There’s the married couple (Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt) that take advantage of dating and escort sites to cheat on each other, while their football player son Chris (Travis Tope) struggles to have sex with Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia) because of his addiction to online porn. Hannah, a cheerleader, struggles with the repercussions of the modeling site she creates with her mom (Judy Greer), as her team member Allison (Elena Kampouris) struggles with anorexia. Tim (Ansel Elgort) quits the football team and instead focuses on online gaming, along with romancing Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever) whose mother (Jennifer Garner) goes to an extreme monitoring her online activity.
All of this is meant to funnel into one big message about how much technology has changed our social interaction, but even ignoring the fact that we get the point fairly early into the film, Reitman struggles to make some of the stories even relevant to technology and its impacts. Alongside co-writer Erin Cressida Wilson (working from the novel by Chad Kultgen), Reitman hastily throws in elements like Tim’s video games and Allison’s anorexia chat room that end up having little impact in their stories. It’s as if he wanted to tell a story about a kid struggling to find his place in the world, or one about a girl struggling with an eating disorder, and just decided to throw them in here.
The movie is grating from the start, opening with shots of the Voyager 1 space probe and a voiceover from Emma Thompson that practically scream “Do you get it? We’re talking about big ideas here!” Of course, that’s quickly undermined when Reitman runs out of a reason to have a narrator, and so relegates Thompson to saying dirty words in her British accent to get laughs, before all but cutting her from the film halfway through. It’s a movie that at once has an overly clear, broad purpose, and yet a movie that seems to have no idea what it wants to be. Sandler’s performance and character would suggest an understated drama, while Garner’s would suggest something more akin to The Stepford Wives.
When Labor Day came out I wrote about how I was worried for the track Reitman was headed down, and now those fears have escalated. Men, Women & Children suggests a much worse filmmaker than we know Reitman to be, to the point that I worry I might have overpraised his earlier work.
Overall Grade: D+