Men, Women & Children



   After crafting two of the finest films of modern mainstream cinema - in Juno and Up In the Air - it seemed like Jason Reitman would go on to enjoy a legendary and iconic career in Hollywood. Whilst this is still entirely possible, the young director seems to have taken a series of mis-steps in recent years and, in his latest feature, lost all confidence in his own voice.

   Men, Women & Children is a sad ensemble movie which feels like an attempt to ape the great Paul Thomas Anderson and Todd Solondz. Sadly Reitman has not chiseled something as fantastic or unique as Magnolia or Happiness here - the result is, instead, closer to "Beige" or "Apathy".

   The interconnected storylines are linked by a voice-over from Emma Thompson (who is so stunted by her own annunciation she peculiarly pronounces the word "Whale" so as to begin with a hard "H"). Whilst superficially instantly reminiscent of the under-rated Stranger than Fiction (which Thompson also narrates), her purpose soon becomes clear - there is a small section of society who finds nothing funnier than posh English folk swearing. If you delight  in such people using the word "jizz" then belly laughs are headed your way. If not, you may be perplexed at the Received Pronunciation accent guiding you through a very American film as much as the borderline-inconsequential nature of the words which haphazardly fall from Thompson's mouth.

   In the movie's world we're introduced to a host of modern characters who lead very different existences to the ones we are used to seeing on screen - protagonists who spend much of their own lives with faces buried in their own screens. Seldom do the electric shadows of cinema portray humans who spend as much of their lives on phones or computers as we do in reality. The reasons for this are plentiful but, for the most part, it boils down to the simple fact that its not usually very interesting or stimulating for audiences to observe.



   We meet Don and Helen Truby (Adam Sandler and Rosemaire DeWitt) - a middle aged couple who have fallen out of passion, if not love. They sit wordless beside each other in bed, playing on electronic devices. Is technology a symptom or cause of their apathy toward life?

    Either way, the couple both look once more towards technology to inject their lives with new energy and to meet new people - are they truly looking to fulfill their lust or are they searching for something deeper, more profound; a real connection in a place in which it could never exist? Sadly Reitman never really answers these questions over the film and instead shows the disintegration of a relationship rather than the cause or effect. Instead of satirising the internet as one may expect, or our dependence on it for false human companionship, the director prefers to just show a series of events which don't so much conclude but simply happen.

   We also meet Patricia Beltmeyer (Jennifer Garner) as a very strict mother who monitors her daughter's use of the internet at all times. She is hawk-eyed and diligent and manages her daughter's accounts with precision, dictating who she can talk to or not, whilst keeping a running tab on every site she visits. Except, of course, when the script necessitates that she doesn't. Its a thankless task for Garner and another story arc which ends with a shrug of the shoulders - is Reitman suggesting that adults should stay off the internet entirely and leave it to the kids? He doesn't bother to spell this out nor use subtext to guide us - again we witness a series of events which just happen to happen.



   We also meet Hannah Clint (Olivia Crocicchia) - a young woman who is pushed into the seedier side of internet modelling by her over enthusiastic mother (Judy Greer) - and a student obsessed with game playing online (Ansel Egort). The plotlines, it could be said, are loosely connected - if one were to be generous, it is possible to see how this draws parallels to life online.

    But again, we're not sure why these stories exist or what they're trying to say. Perhaps this is the point - perhaps Reitman has purposefully made a vapid, baggy movie which nauseates more than it nourishes to mirror the medium it is satirising? Or, more than likely, perhaps Reitman has took a strange mis-step on his career path?

   Like an afternoon spent scrolling through Buzzfeed, Men, Women & Children leaves the audience with little to show for two hours staring at the screen and an empty feeling inside too. There's got to be better ways to spend our time than this?
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