“Men, Women & Children” is probably one of the more deplorable movies I’ve seen in a long time. It’s one of those films like “Traffic” or “Crash” that uses a large cast of seemingly unrelated characters to tackle a single, pressing issue.
First of all, any comparison to “Crash” puts us in some dicey territory, but then when you proceed to make “Crash” seem evenhanded and reasonable by comparison, you’re practically begging The Hague to bring you up on charges of crimes against cinema.
The “issue” that “Men, Women & Children” is grappling with is social media in the Internet age and how it is DESTROYING AMERICA!!!!!!!! (I would have added more caps and exclamation points, but my editor stopped me).
This movie was directed and co-written by Jason Reitman, a talented dude known for making sharp and satirical movies like “Thank You For Smoking,” “Juno” and “Up in the Air.”
But this movie has all the wit and subtlety of an afterschool special as Reitman is practically screaming with all the earnestness and righteousness he can muster, “This is how people live now!”
Set in a suburban Texas town, we are shown a cross-section of white, white people presenting a variety of cautionary tales of Internet usage gone wrong.
We have Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt as Don and Helen Truby, whose son Chris (Travis Tope) has an extreme Internet porn addiction.
Donna (Judy Greer) takes racy pictures of her underage daughter Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia) and puts them online with the hopes of advancing Hannah’s acting career. Tim Mooney (Ansel Elgort) quits the football team to spend more time playing online video games and to brood about his mother leaving him and his father Kent (Dean Norris).
Then, to show us the other end of the crazy spectrum, we have paranoid Patricia (Jennifer Garner), who uses the Internet to monitor her daughter Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever) as if she were an inmate in Guantanamo Bay.
What’s most remarkable about this movie is how virtually none of the situations ripping at the heart of the American family that it presents are in any way unique to our times.
Teenagers are having sex?! Adults are in unhappy marriages and having affairs?! Parents are overbearing and smothering?! Eating disorders?! Unplanned pregnancies?! Suicide attempts?! Curse you computers and the boundless plagues you’ve brought upon humanity!
Then, just to top it all off, the whole thing is narrated by Emma Thompson, channeling a scandalized dowager countess. She is coupled with a completely unnecessary framing device involving the Voyager spacecraft that is there to illustrate just how insignificant our petty human problems truly are. If I could, I would slap this movie.
You see, this really is a remarkable, unprecedented moment in human history brought about by incredible advances in technology. There are very real issues that are unique to our time and place, like cyberbullying and privacy concerns, that this movie completely skirts in order to go after crappy human behavior that has been around for eons, which the Internet simply makes more convenient. Big whoop.
Parenting is hard and it is even more challenging when dealing with technologies that all of our parenting models could have only dreamed of in their wildest imaginations. This movie does not help with any of that.
At one point in the film, one character lists various horrors that have befallen people irresponsibly using the Internet to which another character responds without a hint of irony, “Aren’t those kind of extreme examples?” I’m hard-pressed to think of another time a movie has so successfully argued against itself.
“Men, Women & Children” is rated R for strong sexual content including graphic dialogue throughout, some involving teens, and for language.