Mark Reviews Movies

Men, Women & Children


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jason Reitman

Cast: Rosemarie DeWitt, Adam Sandler, Kaitlyn Dever, Ansel Elgort, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, Elena Kampouris, Dean Norris, Olivia Crocicchia, Travis Tope, Dennis Haysbert, J.K. Simmons, Phil LaMarr, the voice of Emma Thompson

MPAA Rating: R (for strong sexual content including graphic dialogue throughout-some involving teens, and for language)

Running Time: 1:59

Release Date: 10/3/14 (limited); 10/17/14 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 2, 2014

Were you aware that modern technology is a double-edged sword? Did you know it has the capability to bring us together with people from around the world but also keeps us at a distance from others? Were you aware people are mean to other people online? Did you know kids often use their mobile phones to send text messages to each other that contain gossip and threats of the semi-serious and totally joking varieties? As for Internet pornography, did you know that's a thing and to what degree it occurs? If you answered "No" to any of these questions, Men, Women & Children could be a shocking exposé. If not, then you know about and likely use modern technology, and this movie thinks you need serious help.

That's only half a joke. This is a movie that only cares about two things: setting up a series of technology-based, fear-fueled scenarios and building to the inevitable, potentially tragic consequences.

Some of those consequences include a teenager who attempts suicide because his dad takes away his video game (seriously), a teenage girl who almost bleeds out due to medical complications from anorexic behavior she learned from a website (not a joke), and a mother who discovers that selling racy pictures of her daughter to anonymous perverts isn't a proper business venture (She says her daughter doesn't know about it, as if that somehow makes it fine and dandy). At no point does the screenplay by director Jason Reitman and Erin Cressida Wilson (adapted from Chad Kultgen's novel) even stop to consider that maybe—just maybe—these people's problems go a bit deeper than technology.

What should we really expect from a movie that suggests responsible, life-affirming technological advances ceased with the 1977 launch of the Voyager 1 space probe? No, I'm not pulling that from some crevice of my body; Voyager 1, traveling through and to the edge of the solar system, is a central figure in the movie. This is also a movie in which characters stop to marvel at the more innocent times of September 11, 2001—back when not everyone and their grandmother had a cellphone.

Yes, that's what this movie focuses on when the subject of September 11 arises—that cellphones weren't as widespread then as they are with the kids these days. If this movie were a person, it's natural to suspect that he or she would use the phrase "kids these days" without a trace of irony.

As for the interconnected stories, here's a rundown. Don and Helen (Adam Sandler and Rosemary DeWitt) are a married couple whose sex life has stalled. Helen is frustrated and starts looking online to have an affair, and Don happens upon an ad for an escort service while using his son's computer to search for porn.

The son is Chris (Travis Tope), who has become so accustomed to porn that—to put it euphemistically—he has a problem starting his engine without it. This is even when he has Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia), the captain of the high school cheerleading squad, in his bed. Hannah is an aspiring celebrity whose mother Joan (Judy Greer) has set up a modeling studio in the basement and posts "headshots" of her daughter in swimsuits and crop tops online.

Joan has caught the eye of Kent (Dean Norris). Kent is the father of Tim (Ansel Elgort), the star quarterback of the high school football team who quits the team without warning and becomes addicted to a video game. He has a crush on Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever), a bookworm with a technologically savvy, overbearing mother named Patricia (Jennifer Garner). Patricia tracks her daughter's every keystroke on the computer and every physical move with a GPS device on the girl's phone.

There's more, of course, but at this juncture, the point should be clear. Technology is a terrible thing. If that's not apparent enough, Emma Thompson serves as the ethereal narrator, who provides very little in the way of genuine insight about the characters and too much information about their masturbation habits.

After the movie has built its melodramatic problems to an even more melodramatic climax, Men, Women & Children goes out with a whimper, offering a montage of characters looking redeemed without earning redemption or deciding to live in a state of denial about their actions instead of discussing why they acted that way or simply sitting in a new place. Considering its lack of concern in addressing a solution to the problem it raises, the movie's fascination with masturbation is appropriate.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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