Men, Women, & Children (2014) Film Review from the 58th Annual BFI London Film Festival, a movie directed by Jason Reitman, starring Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Judy Greer, DeanNorris, Timothée Chalamet, Olivia Crocicchia, Kaitlyn Dever, Ansel Elgort, Katherine C. Hughes, Elena Kampouris, Will Peltz, Travis Tope, David Denman, Dennis Haysbert, J.K. Simmons, and Emma Thompson as the voice of the narrator.
Men, Women & Children is a film based on the novel of the same name by Chad Kultgen. The film tells the story of a group of teenagers and their parents trying to navigate their lives in the 21st century. Men, Women & Children brings to life a world filled with the internet and all it brings, where our expectations of reality are skewed by what we see online. The story is narrated via an omniscient Emma Thompson, who watches over the characters as everything unravels. The film contains a number of characters whose lives are all intertwined with one another.
In theory, the film has all the ingredients to be a worthy watch: Young love, sex, marital troubles, an all-star cast, various fetishes and addictions, and, honestly, plenty of material to work with. However, the movie just doesn’t work, and it is precisely down to having all of this material. The film is essentially stretched too thin. There is only so much you can do in two hours. Unfortunately, director Jason Reitman seems to have ignored the need for character development. This is evident from the very beginning with his need to have an omnipresent narrator tell the audience everything that’s happening. Even in the first scene with Adam Sandler, where he uses his son’s laptop to, let’s say, conduct research, the narrator is the one who informs the audience about the characters emotions, how Sandler feels disconnected from his son because technology has taken away what was a bonding moment for him and his own father.
The characters in Men, Women & Children are one dimensional and don’t add anything positive to what I imagine was already a weak script to begin with. Adam Sandler plays Don, a man whose marriage has hit the rocks and isn’t showing any signs of shifting back on course. He often uses the internet to try and escape into a more controlled environment. Rosemarie DeWitt plays his wife Helen, a woman who just wants intimacy in her life and can’t seem to find it from her husband. She too looks to the internet for escape.
Judy Greer puts in a surprisingly robust performance as a helicopter mom who is a little bit too involved in her daughter’s life. Jennifer Garner’s character is perhaps the vilest of the film’s characters, playing an obsessively concerned mother who has complete control over her daughter’s life, both online and off.
Strangely enough, the best performances were actually by the new comers. Ansel Elgort plays Tim Mooney, perhaps the most complex of the films characters. Ansel was easily one of the bright spots of the film. Both Ansel and Kaitlyn Dever (who plays Jennifer Garner’s daughter) have fantastic chemistry and their scenes were one of the few good things about the film.
The film relies heavily on shock value, often showing the extreme repercussions of using technology. And, yes, to a degree it is somewhat true. Technology and especially the different forms of social media are a large part of most people’s lives. Though, the main criticism is simply that it tries to do too much. One can only wonder what the film would have been like with fewer characters and story lines. The complete lack of character development makes this film painful to watch. I cannot stress that part enough.
This film is a lot like Valentine’s Day (2010), in the sense that it uses a large ensemble cast to hide some serious flaws in the script. The film doesn’t seem to have any sense of balance. Many of the characters don’t feel like real people, they just seem jaded and there is never a good explanation given for that. The film constantly tries to show the dark side of modern technology; anorexia, casual sex, adultery, prostitution, replacing social networking with face to face networking, porn addiction, and more. As I’ve said before, the list of topics this movie tries to cover are too great and in the end they suffer because of it.
Apart from a few laughs, this film is probably one best left avoided.