I find it frustrating how much social media has taken over our lives, and it’s very interesting to see a movie try to tackle this topic in a cinematic sense. Writer/director Jason Reitman was on a major roll with his films Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up In The Air and Young Adult, but he finally had a misstep with last year’s Labor Day. Well, he’s back on track with Men, Women and Children.
Adapted from Chad Kultgen‘s novel, Jason and co-writer Erin Cressida Wilson have constructed a fascinating ensemble piece with multiple storylines where every thread holds your attention. That’s quite a feat since a lot of the film is people typing on computer screens and mobile devices (the film smartly has the text appear alongside the action instead of going to a full frame of just text). The film starts off with Emma Thompson‘s voice telling us about Carl Sagan‘s satellite that drifts through outer space trying to reach other “life”. The galaxy is endless, daunting, undefinable, and impossible to control. The internet is exactly the same. Emma starts to introduce all of our characters trying to navigate their way through a digital world.
Don and Helen Truby (Adam Sandler, Rosemarie DeWitt) have lost the spark in the marriage, while their teenage son, Chris (Travis Tope), deals with his raging hormones. Patricia Beltmeyer (Jennifer Garner) controls every aspect of her daughter Brandy’s (Kaitlyn Dever) online existence by going through her phone and computer every night, and even tracks her location through GPS. Kent Mooney (Dean Norris) is dealing with his wife abandoning him and their teenage son (Ansel Elgort). Joan Clint (Judy Greer) runs a borderline porn website that features her teenage daughter, Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia). There’s also Allison Doss (Elena Kampouris), a teenager who will do anything to be skinny.
There’s a lot going on in Men, Women and Children and every storyline offers something different. The film makes you think about your own relationship with social media. Jennifer Garner daringly takes on a completely unlikable character. A woman who has gone too far in trying to “parent” her child online. She’s stripped her child of any freedom. Yet, after the movie was over, Garner’s character was the one I kept thinking about. The media is always telling parents that they need to monitor their child online. That’s exactly what Patricia is doing, yet it comes off as wrong. So where should parents draw that imaginary line? The internet is a scary world, and a parent should protect their child. This is a bold character for Garner to take on, and it’s a smart move for Reitman to get his Juno alum to take on the role because it’s impossible to hate Jennifer Garner completely.
All of the cast is superb (yes, even Sandler) in their roles. Breaking Bad‘s Dean Norris has some great moments, as does Judy Greer, and all the younger actors, who all have major roles, have strong presences. The film doesn’t offer easy answers at all. The characters change dramatically from beginning to end, but none of them are any less confused after the movie is over. Men, Women and Children is a universal title, and it ends up the issues the movie deals with are universal as well. It will make for great conversation as you exit the theatre.