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[Joint Review] – ‘Men, Women and Children’

 
 
Overview
 

Release Date: 17th October 2014
 
Director: Jason Reitman
 
Writer: Chad Kultgen - Jason Reitman - Erin Cressida Wilson
 
Cast: Kaitlyn Dever - Rosemarie DeWitt - Ansel Elgort - Judy Greer - Dean Norris
 


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Posted October 26, 2014 by

 
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Jonathan’s Perspective:

Men, Women, and Children is a good reminder of why we both like and dislike Jason Reitman. (“love” and “hate” feel a little too strong in this context.) The movie is getting slammed pretty good by the mainstream press – a 30% on Rotten Tomatoes – and no doubt some complaining is in order. But let’s take a moment to look at the good stuff.

In his first three movies, Thank You for Smoking, Juno, and Up in the Air, Reitman proved to be adept at blending genres and tones. He could inject humor into sentiment, pathos into comedy. Any one of those movies could have tipped too far in one direction or another, but he was able to tread the fine line. Thus Smoking did not become too much of a one-joke satire, and Juno avoided falling into the pit of cute sentiment. There are some viewers who felt that Up in the Air did fall into that pit, taking itself a little too seriously and allowing George Clooney to writhe in quiet anguish a little too prettily. I was not one of those viewers. I thought the director was still walking the tightrope.

Unfortunately, tonal schizophrenia doomed his last two films. Young Adult just struck me as nasty and mean, and sadly unfunny. He followed that up with the sappily romantic Labor Day, in which sentimentality overwhelmed any semblance of plot or character logic.

So the first good thing to report is that Men, Women, and Children finds Reitman back in decent control of his tone. When at his best, he has been able to insert humor into troublesome material, and if this movie doesn’t represent him at his best, it does manage to blend some real humor into its dark subject.

It also finds him willing to take on complex material. The story is about the desire for genuine human interaction in the age of virtual reality. Until Labor Day, I had always been impressed with Reitman’s subject matter: national attitudes toward our self-admitted vices, teen pregnancy, corporate layoffs as a symbol for personal emptiness, and the infantilizing of America’s young adults. Even though I found Young Adult to be a failed effort, I appreciated it more than Labor Day, which struck me as phoning in maudlin romance. So I am happy to see Reitman take a swing at something meaningful again.

And whatever flaws to which he may fall victim, Reitman remains capable of very sharp and witty insight. There are moments of character revelation in Men, Women, and Children which hit with great impact. Teenager Allison’s on-line pro-ana support group is chilling, as is teenager Chris Truby’s porn addiction. Most chilling of all, overly-protective mom Patricia Beltmeyer’s crusade to isolate everyone’s children from the cyber world shows all the righteous certainty of the fanatic, regardless of the cause.

There is good acting throughout, especially from Jennifer Garner as the aforementioned Patricia, Dean Norris as a single father trying restart his life, and Kaitlyn Dever, last seen in Short Term 12, as Patricia’s put-upon daughter Brandy. The device that Reitman develops to convey large groups of people moving through space while texting and messaging and posting is also a nice touch.

So there are things to like. There are also things to dislike.

Let’s begin with the seemingly benign misogyny. Reitman’s previous stabs at significant female characters have generally been failures. Mavis Gary in Young Adult is about as unlikeable as characters get, and Adele in Labor Day is a classic woman in need of masculine rescue. To date, Juno has been the obvious exception, and how much of that character is attributable to screenwriter Diablo Cody (who also wrote Young Adult) is open to debate. In Men, Women, and Children, the three adult female characters are all deeply flawed – and represent three classic female “weaknesses.” Garner’s Patricia is a domineering shrew. Rosemarie DeWitt’s Helen is a cheating slut. Judy Greer’s Donna is a frivolous ninny. The two adult men of significance, in comparison, come off better. Norris’ Kent is the decent guy who has been abandoned by his wife (representative of yet another cardinal feminine sin). Adam Sandler’s Don, the husband of Helen, is also a philanderer. But Don gets to take the moral high ground in the relationship. He becomes aware of Helen’s infidelity before Helen learns of his, and thus he is able to be the mature and benevolent forgiver, while she is left as the humiliated penitent. So even when the sins are equal, the man gets to control and resolve the narrative. Interestingly, this only seems to apply to adult women. The three primary teenage females are better nuanced.

Then there are the places where the emotional vestiges of Labor Day appear to linger. Reitman just pushes too hard for meaning and emotion in a couple of areas. This is most evident in the character of Tim Mooney, the teenager who has been abandoned by his mother and who makes himself a pariah by refusing to play football for his high school team. As played by Ansel Elgort, Tim is a beautiful mass of masculine suffering, his lip constantly aquiver and a tear forever forming in the corner of his eye. The other obvious overreach comes from the narration which Reitman and co-scriptor Erin Cressida Wilson employ a great deal early on, and then virtually abandon after the first act. As spoken by Emma Thompson, this narration is occasionally funny and informative, but often seems unmotivated and intrusive. When it makes a rather blunt reappearance during the denouement, it becomes downright preachy, as though the writers feared the story they had just told us was not good enough to deliver the desired message.

The story also veers into overcooked melodrama in places. It is not enough that one teenage character almost dies in the second half of the story. Reitman has two of them hauled away in ambulances. And though I admired the cinematic devices used in the texting scenes, Reitman and DP Eric Steelberg render Texas high school football games as remarkably dull and drab affairs.

But the biggest problem with Men, Women, and Children is its scope. Reitman has ten primary characters, five adult and five teen-age, engaged in multiple overlapping plotlines. This is a hard thing to pull off, and it simply doesn’t work very well. For one thing, the stories are not all of equal interest. The story of restless married couple simultaneously cheating is not very good. The editing is gimmicky, and the affairs are rather clichéd. The other adult storyline, that of the abandoned man and the single mom, is better executed, but hardly seems on a par with the better plotlines. The one powerhouse storyline involves uber-helicoptor mom Patricia and the effect she has on her daughter. If only Reitman had the faith in that story to put it front and center, while pushing a few of the other stories into the realm of subplot, and eliminating others all together.

The fact is, other movies have handled many of the individual threads that Reitman explores more effectively than this mélange of plotlines, and Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm is a significantly better compilation of adults and kids suffering through parallel relationship problems. But Patricia’s effect on the Brandy-Tim relationship, with a very logical subplot involving Kent and Donna, and Donna’s daughter Hannah – that might have been a movie well worth watching. Instead of one that has a couple things to like, and a couple more to dislike.

One further note: Since I have been somewhat critical of Reitman here, I should point out that he is one of the Executive Producers of Whiplash, among the best movies of the last several years. That’s something to love.

Written By:

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 15.23.06

Jonathan Eig
@rockynrudy
Huffington Post
CurnBlog
Freelance Contributor

 

Matthew’s Perspective:

Director and writer Jason Reitmen is quickly becoming one of my favourites without me even knowing. In fact I didn’t realise until I saw the trailer for Men, Women & Children and was instantly wowed by what was going on in those 2 minutes alone. The end scrolled up Reitman’s name along with previous films he’s done such as Juno and Up In The Air, both of which I hold quite highly. So it wasn’t even a doubt in my mind that I’d remotely hate this film as I knew there’d be something golden in it for me.

So Men, Women & Children is an ingenious look into our modern day word through the social interactions we all lack of these days. It focuses on various characters, all of different ages, who all have a heavy concentration on social interaction through the internet whether it’ll be social media or a role playing game and the film is just that, how these characters deal with all of this. It’s a very dark look into how we all live, interact and be with different people in our lives and walking out of the film it makes you stop and think ‘maybe I should just put down the phone.’

So the basic plot is the film follows different characters and how they’re being controlled by the modern day necessities like internet and social media. The first character it looks into is Adam Sandler’s father figure who’s in search of a working computer to view porn until he comes across his sons PC, who’s history is filled. This already puts the instinct that there’s something up with Sandler’s love life and marriage with his son being a young aged porn addict and this is the first nail in the film. It depicts what different things do to our mind. How easily accessed porn is and what it’s doing to young people’s minds. We follow Sandler throughout the film, as well as his son, who goes in search of extra love (or sexual needs) through the world of the internet, again showing how easily accessible everything is.

Other characters the film follows is Ansel Elgort (Fault In Our Stars) who’s mother has upped and left and his father (Dean Norris) is finding it extremely difficult to have any sort of social interaction with his son. Elgort’s character has become addicted to online game play even though his supposed friends online mock him. His only social form is through a young girl (Kaitlyn Denver- Short Term 12) who he begins a relationship with however Denver’s character flaw is her mother (Jennifer Garner) being over protective with the internet, her phone and basically living her usual teenage life. It’s actually these two characters who become the defining point in the story as it closely resembles so many fears parents have in the modern day now.

Another two families which are viewed show a close mother/daughter relationship (Judy Greer/Olivia Crocicchia) The mother once being a young actor in Hollywood until falling pregnant with her daughter Hannah. Hannah being a young cheerleader roles her life in lies for popularity gain as her mother lives her dreams through her daughter. A friend of Hannah’s is another young girl who has an eating disorder (Elena Kampouris) who’s family (involving father J.K Simmons) has no idea. We see how dark these two worlds go as the mother of Hannah opens an almost nudity website of her daughter and we get a very dark world of how far the eating disorder world goes.

It seems like a lot to get through in a two hour movie but the film is executed in perfection as we don’t spend too long focused to any one character, jumping from person to person and crossing the characters into each others lives. What the film does do is show us how dark some people are living their lives these days without even realising, even making you think at times, if what you’re doing is right.

So Men, Women & Children offers a very dark reality on what is happening in the world. All these individual families, which we follow in the film, have very deep, dark goings on and instead of sitting down and discussing what’s going on they rather take their view onto the internet world in some way, shape or form. It’s quite a telling to the world and it’s audience with a huge metaphor in the end of just talk to people rather than block yourself away.

It’s dark, emotional and has a lot of drama and some brilliant characters. The acting feels very natural and you don’t focus on too many characters all at once. It’s a perfect film for it’s time and sadly isn’t getting as much of a look in as it should be but Jason Reitmen does it again wth Men, Women & Children.

Written By:

Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 22.37.10

Matthew Reay
Photo&Film
@MatthewReay
Freelance Contributor

 

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