Director: Jason Reitman
Actors: Kaitlyn Dever, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ansel Elgort, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, J.K. Simmons, Emma Thompson, Adam Sandler
Writers: Jason Reitman, Erin Cressida Wilson (screenplay), Charles Kultgen (source)
Runtime: 116 min
Canadian director Jason Reitman’s filmography is so diverse that it is impossible to predict what kind of film he will choose to create next. From works such as teen comedy Juno (2007) to the decidedly more dramatic Up in the Air (2009), films from this director often meet with both critical and commercial success. Reitman’s latest film, Men, Women & Children is a work that aims more to educate that to entertain. Focusing on several families and the impact that technology has had on the relationships between the members, this film offers a harrowing look at what could be – and certainly is – occurring around us every day.
A teenage girl posts pictures of herself in revealing outfits with the help of her mother, while another looks online for encouragement for her eating disorder. A teenage boy finds himself so addicted to pornography that he is unable to enjoy sex with an actual person, while another is lost deep in the world of a virtual reality. A mother seeks to control every aspect of her daughter’s technology use, while another uses her own technology to initiate her affair. Many intertwining stories are related in this film, which is based on the novel by Charles Kultgan, and are tied together through theme as well as narration by Emma Thompson. This film offers a warning in regards to the dangers of several different aspects of modern technology, as well as a look at what may occur through an attempt at its over-control.
Many different personalities are represented through the teenagers in this film, and although they vary greatly, all of these adolescent characters felt genuine and real. A contemporary screenplay works well to capture the voices of this generation, and an ensemble cast of talented young actors play their parts well, generating genuine sympathy as well as frustration in turns, but remaining likeable overall. Reitman seems able to enter the mind of an adolescent in a way that few filmmakers are able to, a skill that he has demonstrated in his previous works as well. Although Reitman’s storylines do feature young adults in a wide variety of sexual situations, his filming remains highly sensitive and is never inappropriate, nor gratuitous. Two adult actors who also bear mention are Adam Sandler, who does well in a rare dramatic role, and Jennifer Garner, who terrifies with her controlling demeanour.
Director Reitman uses several techniques to render his film simultaneously grand and intimate. Thompson’s familiar, wise, and all-knowing narration is often accompanied by shots of the cosmos, putting the events on screen into perspective. Each story is still treated as important, however, and allowed to play out to its fullest as none are introduced and then ignored. Reitman also uses graphics to represent technological communication such as text messaging that occurs silently and often in tandem with spoken conversation. Those unfamiliar with this mode of communication may find it confusing, while others will recognize it as all too familiar.
Men, Women & Children is not a typical Jason Reitman picture, and may take some filmgoers by surprise. Instead of focusing on exciting narrative or quirky characters, this film takes a deep and serious look at the impact that technology can have on family development. The film goes beyond the expected representations of porn addiction and delves into other aspects of technology abuse as well, such as gaming obsessions and pro-anorexia websites – and even the harm that a well-meaning but over-controlling mother can render. It is easy not only to feel pain for the young people represented in this film, but to feel it with them as well. This mosaic of snapshots is an effective and harrowing message piece that will not be enjoyed by all, but will certainly affect many.