The 400-Word Review: Men, Women and Children
By Sean Collier
October 20, 2014
Men, Women & Children consists of no fewer than eight stories. (I say “no fewer” because I could’ve missed a few in the flood of narratives the film presents.) To be sure, it’s a case of quantity over quality. But it’s also many tales illustrating a point too vague to be effectively made by one.
Don (Adam Sandler) and Helen (Rosemarie DeWitt) are losing their grip on marriage, and looking elsewhere via the internet. Their son, Chris (Travis Tope), has spent too much time with porn, and struggles to connect to his hypersexual classmate Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia) — who is being turned into an online Lolita by her mother, Donna (Judy Greer). Meanwhile, Donna tries to connect with new divorcee Kent (Dean Norris), whose son Tim (Ansel Elgort) is a budding nihilist able only to relate to his girlfriend, Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever). Their romance is opposed by Brandy’s mom, Patricia (Jennifer Garner), who uses cell phones and spyware to monitor her daughter’s every move.
There’s also a troubling bit about an anorexic cheerleader, but that paragraph was getting long.
In isolation, none of these dramas could illustrate the brave new world that interests Jason Reitman, the film’s director and co-writer with Erin Cressida Wilson — nor, apparently, author Chad Kultgen, who wrote the source material. That point: online interactions have changed the way we engage with sex and love so quickly that we haven’t had time to reckon with the new reality. And, despite our fears for the sanctity of our teenagers, grown-ups aren’t any better at figuring this stuff out.
Men, Women & Children is at war with itself, as characters vie for screen time arhythmically. Voice-over narration by Emma Thompson is often funny, but disappears for long stretches; threads are left alone for so long that we need a “Previously On” tag to remember who wants what. The performances are grounding; Greer, Norris, Elgort and Dever are especially strong, and the only real problem is Garner. (There’s no way to sugar-coat it at this point; she cannot act.)
The film is an uncertain prizefighter, charging in to throw haymakers that are as likely to whiff as land. Unfortunately, when it finally gets the audience on the ropes, it neglects to deal a knockout punch; to a one, every story ends unsatisfactorily. That it is still a minor success is a credit to Reitman — though audiences should expect more from him.
My Rating: 6/10