On the Silver Screen – Men, Women & Children
Jason Reitman’s Men, Women & Children offers commentary on the role of digital communication in the lives of a group of parents and their children as they try to navigate their various relationships.
This is probably the right time for a film like this to come out given the modern world’s reliance and addiction to what the internet can offer us. Many of us are guilty of spending too much time online and perhaps not enough time is spent on spending time in the company of others. Why would we need to? We can simply text, tweet, message people on facebook or use one of the other infinite methods available to us. Conceptually I was really on board with exploring the advantages and disadvantages of this level of reliance on online communication.
In reality the film turns out to be far more uneven than I had hoped. There are lots of characters so there is great scope for a character study of this community and what the internet means in their lives. For the most part the cast is strong and in some cases there are actors playing characters I haven’t seen them do before. Jennifer Garner’s overprotective cyber-watchdog mother being a notable highlight.
There are some interesting stories included here. I found Chris Truby’s (Travis Tope) issue of being a porn addict at the age of 15 warping his sexual tastes to the point of impotence when it comes to a normal sexual relationship to be an intriguing approach. Psychologically it’s a fascinating issue as it’s a problem that will likely plague him for a fair chunk of his life because his developing mind is unable to give context to what he’s seeing and how realistic it is. Naturally you can’t have a movie about the internet without dealing with the pornographic side of it. I found this story to be effective because it’s probably an issue that kids all over the world are dealing with and it definitely presents this particular internet passtime in a negative light. Whether it is or not I suppose is up to the viewer but this story remains unresolved suggesting that it will take a long time to have this resolved, if it’s ever resolved at all.
Another story that gets lots of attention is Hannah Clint (Olivia Crocicchia) being objectified when her own mother Donna (Judy Greer) sets up a modeling website for her. The setup is that Donna didn’t get her big break in showbusiness so is living vicariously through her daughter trying to give her the life that she missed out on. The worst part of it is that Hannah has grown up being objectified and sees that as being the norm so she embraces it. Whether it’s right or wrong for her to be comfortable being objectified by others is beside the point, the issue is that she doesn’t seem to have had any choice in the matter. It’s a side of the debate that the film never really addresses and there’s not a lot of depth to the story other than presenting that it exists. I can see some merit to leaving it to the viewer to make up their mind on but I was looking for the film to come to some kind of conclusion on its own on some of the issues.
This is a genuine issue throughout the film. The stories play out as a collection of scenes with no real ending or resolution. It almost seems as if Jason Reitman was afraid to present anything resembling opinion on the debates raised. Giving your own opinion as fine provided you make a case for it, something I always try to do here. I think it would have been more effective had there been some conclusions drawn.
One story gets more attention than others. Ansel Elgort’s Tim Mooney has giving up playing football due to lack of interest and has become an online gaming addict. At least, that’s what the film tells us he is but I really disagree here. He spends a lot of time gaming online sure but he’s far from an addict as far as I’m concerned. He still manages to forge a real connection with Kaitlyn Dever’s Brandy Beltmeyer. There’s nothing unhealthy about the way he interacts with others and his love for gaming is understandable given that he’s dealing with his mother leaving his Dad Kent (Dean Norris). It’s only natural that he would seek comfort in a virtual world.
The major problem with this story is that it’s overly melodramatic. Tim is written as being somewhat philosophical after becoming obsessed with Karl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” but it just comes across as pretentiously morbid. He’s clearly trying to make some point about feeling cosmically insignificant but it just comes across as entitled.
Kaitlin Dever’s Brandy is connected to this story but also has a story of her own. She is being oppressed by her mother Patricia (Jennifer Garner) being so overprotective that her every move is tracked as well as her facebook, emails and any other online presence being strictly monitored. I understand the notion of being overprotective but this is just ridiculous. It’s taken to such a ridiculous extreme that it just becomes unbelievable. There is a resolution to this story but it feels clumsy in its execution which is a shame give how much of the run time it takes up.
There are other smaller stories like the internet creating a sense of false image in young women who feel that they need to stop eating to be thin and attractive but no time is spent developing it so it feels like a point that’s raised but goes nowhere.
Weirdly the film tries to connect all of this with imagery of the Voyager probe that recently left the solar system. It ties into the idea of cosmic insignificance through the image of Earth as a tiny dot far in the distance. It makes no sense to explore the issues of this group of people and how their lives are affected by digital communication and then counter it with the suggestion that none of this matters due to how small we are in the context of the universe. I get the feeling that Reitman wanted to make some kind of profound point about the futility of existence but went about it entirely the wrong way. The digital communication ruling our lives idea had enough mileage to carry this entire film so bogging it down with this was entirely unnecessary.
There was some scope for comedic situations to show how ridiculous some of the things depicted are. No attempt is ever made to poke fun at anything going on here and most of it is played seriously. Much of the film would have been far more effective had a humourous tone been taken with some of the stories. Making a situation that people see every day seem ridiculous would have worked really well in illustrating the point trying to be made. As I said earlier the film was overly melodramatic at some points which didn’t really work.
A clumsily put together exploration of the nature of digital communication in the lives of a community of people.
Some of the stories by themselves were pretty well done but the lack of resolution for most of them really brought everything down. The stories that were actually resolved remained the strongest but even at that they were overly dramatic and lacked any sense of realism as a result.
The cast were really strong but poorly used in a lot of cases. Everything just felt muddled and many of the characters felt completely larger than life. It was difficult to relate to any of them despite the situations being very relatable to modern audiences.
A lack of comedy to illustrate the points raised didn’t do the film any favours. Some of the situations depicted are very real to many people yet seem ridiculous when attention is drawn to them. It would have worked better to take advantage of that.
There was an attempt to connect the digital communication issues to the idea of cosmic insignificance illustrated through pictures of Earth from outside the solar system. These two ideas don’t easily fit together and I get the impression this film was trying to make some kind of profound existential point that doesn’t come across well at all. With some tweaking this film could have been interesting but instead falls far short of the mark.