Men, Women & Children, if you do not know (I suspect most of you do not know), is the new film from Jason Reitman; a sometimes gifted director, the spawn of Ivan Reitman, and an American doppelgänger of Edgar Wright. It’s an ensemble picture about our overuse of technology (mostly cell phones and websites) within a high school in Texas, focusing on the parents in the community (MEN, WOMEN) as well as the teenagers at the school (& CHILDREN). The movie has way too much going on for its own good, and all of the scattered storylines mixed together made it kind of an interesting mess. Instead of a conventional review, I’ll just quickly rank all of Men, Women & Children’s different plot lines from best to worst:
1. Dean Norris plays a gruff dad whose wife left him before the movie even started, and he has basically no grasp of any technology. He’s trying to find happiness, but everyone else is a miserable, weird person. This is mainly the best storyline because Dean Norris is awesome.
2. The all-star high school running back quits the football team in order to essentially do nothing and play Guild Wars. It kind of seemed like the character was directly stolen from the main character of Dazed & Confused, but it seemed like the most realistic teen character this film could offer. I mean, I totally relate. Not to quitting the football team (Ha! Me playing football!) or becoming obsessed with a singular video game, but mainly in the droll way that he just decides everything having to do with high school seems meaningless. That was me to a T. My parents thought I was on drugs, but in actuality I just liked to go home and take naps. Though, I didn’t have as cliché an ending as this guy had. Still, that monotone voice without committing to a distinct gothy style… Magnifique!
3. Jennifer Garner plays the most cartoonish, overprotective mom possible. The villain against anything technological. She has tracking devices on her daughter’s cell phone, she reads her kid’s Facebook wall and texts every night, and she has installed a device that (if it exists, is very scary) records every single thing her daughter types on her computer, and then she PRINTS it out like it’s a book and reads it while drinking coffee. Really? The daughter knows all this is happening (that’s the rules), and it’s making her the most unhappy person on the planet. It’s so outlandishly skewed toward the extreme that it becomes really entertaining.
4. Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt play a long married couple that have lost the spark in their relationship. So she goes on a website that hooks her up with other depressed married people, and he goes on a website that hooks him up with prostitutes. Kind of a bare-bones examination of cheating in the modern age; less focused on addressing the actual issues of their marriage than it is an informational piece on how much easier it is to find a stranger to bone now than it was 30 years ago. It also has a frustratingly uneventful non-ending. I also think we’ve reached the point where we need to stop saying Adam Sandler is being a good actor simply because he’s not trying to be funny. There’s a difference.
5. There’s an Emma Thompson narrated glue to all of the stories about the Voyager Space Probe and Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot speech, to remind us in a cutesy way that none of our dumb communication problems actually matter in the scheme of things, because we’re all just tiny organisms on a tiny speck of a planet in this solar system. SO GET OVER IT, AM I RIGHT? It was interesting, if not somewhat gratuitous, but at least this high school movie got to be interrupted by outer space footage every 20 minutes. That was cool.
6. The head cheerleader, who is the token snotty rich white bitch character, is trying to be a celebrity. It’s all she dreams about. She has a website with some racy photos that her mom takes, because she wants to be part of her daughter’s dream. She enters a talent competition, there’s a technicality, yadda yadda yadda. Other than maybe the first two storylines, this is just another informational kind of side story, reminding us that celebrity culture can corrupt our youth, and whatnot. It has *kind of* an ending, but to be honest, the end was the most interesting part and then it cuts away and you don’t see those characters again for the last 20 minutes of the movie. Of all the characters, I maybe wanted to see the aftermath of her storyline the most, but that would have made this movie even longer, so nevermind.
7. A half-thought-out, fragment of a story that got dragged out to nauseum about another football player who becomes obsessed with super fetishy internet pornography to the point where he can’t even be with a girl in real life, because she’s too normal or something. It felt like such a forced-in-there detail, simply to include the reminder that porn is *something* that exists on the internet, that it probably should have just not been included at all. And of all the stories, this kid’s was the least connected to any of the other characters. Also, he edited a video in the film with Windows Movie Maker, so I question his actual skill set.
8. In the most WB teen drama storyline of the film, an anorexic girl loses her virginity to the WORST stereotypical teen douche ever imagined, and then gets pregnant. This felt like an after-school special, and the girl wasn’t interesting, nor was the guy who knocked her up. I sure this kind of thing happens all the time in real life, but I didn’t really care about it at all in a movie already cluttered with so many other things. Especially when it’s done in such an uninspired way. This, more than any other part of the movie, made me feel like Reitman was just trying to hit every angle he could, without actually attempting to say anything genuine.
So, that’s it! Eight storylines. Crammed into one movie. It wasn’t exactly executed like a Robert Altman film, though. But, I mean, like 85% of it is very watchable. I wouldn’t say I was ever bored, but there were many times when I thought what I was watching was really stupid. Jason Reitman may be one of the most inconsistently interesting filmmakers out there. His worst movies are his collaborations with Diablo Cody (Juno, Young Adult), but he was pretty successful with Thank You For Smoking, and I think Up in the Air may be one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. His latest film here will probably get lumped in with Labor Day (the $18 million film about a convict making pie), as sort of a middle ground, teetering between “I didn’t hate it” and “I’m not sure why he chose to make this”. Then again, after all the criticism I just gave Men, Women & Children, I’m still kind of giving it a generous score for some reason. I guess it sort of has an overall, big picture appeal to it; where I can appreciate the whole more than sitting through the pieces? I don’t know. Whatever. [plays on phone for the next seven hours]
6.5 out of 10