Not even a cast full of famous faces such as Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Emma Thompson, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Ansel Elgort can save director Jason Reitman’s new movie, “Men, Women & Children.”
It’s a movie full of big, relevant ideas that all fail to make any impact due to the film’s lack of subtlety. By employing an omniscient, overbearing narration style, Reitman breaks a cardinal rule of writing: he’s telling rather than showing. Instead of understanding how these characters feel through their actions, I know how they feel because an important-sounding British woman tells me so.
The film pretentiously opens in outer space, as a Woody Allen-esque jazz number croons and the dulcet tones of Emma Thompson, the film’s narrator, lecture the audience on the Voyager space program. This all-knowing entity describes how satellites that amplified human sounds were sent into space to give any potential extraterrestrials a sample of life on earth.
After this unnecessary history lesson, we home in on a morose man (Adam Sandler) as he goes to his son’s room to use his computer to masturbate. When he discovers his son’s Internet history is full of pornography, the narrator tells us Sandler feels sad that the old-school ritual of finding your dad’s stack of porn magazines seems to have been lost in this technological age.
Sandler is just one poor sap in this ensemble piece, but this scene encapsulates all you need to know about the film: these characters are not believable people, just conduits for spreading a Luddite mentality. The movie wishes to shame those embracing the internet age by exaggerating the dangers and showcasing how disconnected we are as people because of it.
This perfectly valid criticism gets overshadowed by all the melodramatic excess, as Reitman can’t help but shoehorn in other important, controversial topics no matter how tenuous their relationship to technology dependence. For example, there’s an entire subplot surrounding a young woman with an eating disorder, and this is tied to the narrative through the pro-anorexia Tumblrs she visits. The film also deals with eating disorders, stage parents and the idea of celebrity, overprotective parents, bullying, teenage pregnancy, and suicide, but the film’s two-hour runtime allows for only the broadest of strokes. There’s even a way of dealing with 9/11 that made me cringe with how lazily it was thrown in.
Although Sandler might be commended for taking on a more ambitious role than usual, he sleepwalks through most of the film. It’s not his fault, though, as this is how his character is written. Other stars like DeWitt, Garner, and Simmons are wasted in boring roles, and there are brief hints of life when the film spends time with Judy Greer and “Breaking Bad’s” Dean Norris, who actually give decent performances in spite of everything that surrounds them. The two youngest characters in the film, played by Kaitlyn Dever and Ansel Elgort, are the most interesting, as their relationship is the only thing that comes off as genuine.
Reitman is best known for his unique style of comedy that deal with serious issues, like “Juno” with teen pregnancy or unemployment in “Up In The Air.” Something has been lost in his transition to full blown drama, as this and its critically-panned predecessor “Labour Day” just don’t work. Here’s hoping his next directorial effort sees Reitman returning to the more darkly comedic territory he knows best.
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