The Internet age can often be challenging and confusing, and although some films have touched on aspects of this, no mainstream film has made it the sole focus of the story until Men, Women & Children, the new movie from writer/director Jason Reitman.
Reitman and co-writer Erin Cressida Wilson, working off the novel by Chad Kultgen, explore the of-the-moment topic through a variety of avenues.
Don and Helen Truby (Adam Sandler and Rosemarie Dewitt) are struggling in a listless marriage, and Don often resorts to using his son’s computer to search for porn. That son, Chris (Travis Tope), finds himself helplessly addicted to Internet porn himself, resulting in the inability to relate to real girls.
For anyone who’s currently a parent of a teenager or younger, there are times the film feels akin to horror.
Patricia (Jennifer Garner) monitors every single thing her daughter, Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever), does online or on her phone, a militant devotion she says she’s doing for Brandy’s protection. On the flip side, Donna (Judy Greer) attempts to advance the modeling/acting career of her daughter, Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia), by putting up questionable photos of her on a for-pay website.
Kent (Dean Norris) finds it impossible to relate to his son, Tim (Ansel Elgort), since Tim quit the football team and devoted most of his time to an online role-playing video game. And Allison (Elena Kampouris) derives her self-worth by chatting with people on a pro-anorexia website.
All of these characters live together in one Texas town, leading to multiple crossovers between their individual stories. Reitman devotes an equal amount of time to almost every character, ensuring that each of them gets a chance to become fully developed.
For anyone who’s currently a parent of a teenager or younger, there are times the film feels akin to horror. Although Garner’s character is obviously an extreme example of the overprotective parent, the amount of information, rumors and innuendo with which kids are bombarded nowadays makes her crusade seem almost understandable.
On the flip side, the film rarely seems concerned with how adults actually use the Internet. Aside from Garner’s character, the few times they’re seen interacting with computers or smartphones are fairly pedestrian. It would have been nice to have their storylines be more involved, tech-wise.
And while the film is definitely current, you can’t help but think that, given the speed at which technology moves, the movie won’t already be hopelessly dated within a couple of years. Mentioning Facebook and Twitter is probably safe given their ubiquity, but the use of other real website names could lead to regret.
Ultimately, though, the film is about relationships in this age of seeming disconnectedness. Reitman and Wilson are able to craft a taut drama that makes us care about the fate of almost every single main character, which is no small feat given the number of cast members.
Men, Women & Children may not have many answers as to how to survive in a time when much of our lives plays out online, but as a time capsule look at how people of all ages relate to each other, it’s highly effective.