To me, nothing is sadder in the movie industry then the decline of a great director. At one point, Jason Reitman seemed to be unstoppable, his initial three films, ‘Thank You For Smoking’, ‘Juno’, and ‘Up In The Air’ (the later being my personal favorite) all meeting huge critical acclaim. Then ‘Young Adult’ happened, and while it certainly was not a bad film, it was a major step down from those previous three. However, little did we know of the depths of Reitman’s creative lows until this year, when he kicked things off in January with the atrocious ‘Labor Day’, and now, he’s arrived with a film that is somehow even worse.
Men, Women & Children deals with several different sets of interconnected characters in a ‘Crash’ style narrative that primarily centers around the dangers that our technologically advanced age brings us. The whole affair takes place in a football obsessed Texas town. In ‘High School Stereotypes’ land, we have Tim (Ansel Elgort), a young man who has traded the world of football for the one of Guild Wars, so naturally, the entire world thinks he’s a waste of skin (because everyone in high school cares excessively about other people right?). He does however find solace in Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever), an equally depressed girl who unfortunately has an Internet Nazi for a mother (Jennifer Garner). Literally, this woman checks all of her texts, Facebook interactions, and anything else that does not directly involve her. In a support group she puts together that involve such topics as a pamphlet on the danger of selfies, Tim’s father Kent (Dean Norris) and Donna (Judy Greer), a woman who runs a modeling website for her daughter Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia), hit it off, and start to date. Meanwhile, Hannah is flirting with Chris (Travis Trope) the son of the most depressingly stalled married couple ever, Don (Adam Sandler) and Helen (Rosemarie DeWitt). Also, one of Hannah’s friends, Allison (Elena Kampouris), is discovering herself sexually with disastrous results. I apologize on behalf of this movie for that atrociously long plot summary.
This is a film that does not respect it’s audience enough to treat them like adults. At one time a master satirist of societal ills, Reitman has made a film here that would not be out of place as a modern day after school special. None of the characters have any depth whatsoever, what you see is what you get, and they never are able to move out of playing simple types. Beyond that, this is a phenomenally depressing movie, with almost no traces of humor or humanity to lighten any of the proceedings. Everything feels gross, dirty, and unsavory, it’s the cinematic equivalent of a used sock, if used socks were a god awful social commentary on internet culture.
The cast, chock full of great actors try their best to fight these miserable characters. Some succeed somewhat, and some fail miserably. On the more positive end are Norris, Sandler, and Greer, who all manage to wring authenticity out even in the film’s worst moments. Sandler in particular is impressive, looking like he’s gained some weight, while also seeming brutally emaciated by the marriage he’s trapped in. Seriously Adam, don’t let this movie get you down, do more dramatic roles please! Elgort is also fairly impressive despite having some of the most pretentious dialogue in the film, accurately tapping into Tim’s pain. Where we start to get negative is right around Jennifer Garner. I’ve been saying for a while that she is declining as an actress, and while it’s certainly true that she has the worst character in the film, she is not able to bring anything to it. She comes off as a shrill robot, without any sense of what it was like to be a teenager, or a human for that matter, probably because her programing won’t allow it.
This is a movie that instead of just simply showing people as people, feels the need to employ false pseudo-intellectual nonsense about how Earth is small in relation to the rest of the universe and other things only needlessly cynical people say. Any of the sharp edge that Reitman has brought to his other films has been extinguished in favor of the forced sentimentality of Labor Day. The only thing I can really give him credit for here is his visual representation of people using the internet, with nice graphics that will pop up that drive home the sense of immediacy.
I’m not just depressed about this movie because it’s bad, but I’m infuriated by it, because it forces me to remove someone from my list of favorite directors. I really liked Jason Reitman, but he has now proved time and time again that his former success was an utter fluke, and I’m tired of making excuses for him. Hopefully one day he will make something good again, but for now, consider me deeply unimpressed. Men, Women, & Children is a morose, unpleasant film that feels more like an educational video than an actual piece of entertainment. In fact, there is a film from a couple years ago called ‘Disconnect’ which is actually also a Crash style drama about the internet that is so much better than this, that it’s a wonder that this garbage ever rolled cameras in the first place.