Jason Reitman delivers a modern age bomb.
Jason Reitman has a history of taking a potentially mundance story and creating something riveting and heartwarming. His previous films such as Juno, Up In The Air and Thank You For Smoking have all established themselves as cult favourites, his ability to shine a light on suburban America and the emotional struggles of its inhabitants resonates with audiences, a snapshot of their lives and fears playing out on the screen in front of them. So it must then be asked why Men, Women And Children, his latest look through the curtains into adolescence, middle age, parenting and sex, was such a failure at the box office. Its short run in US cinemas attracted less than a million dollars, an unwanted acheivement for a film that has Adam Sandler, Ansel Elgort and a treasure chest of character actors like Judy Greer, Dean Norris and JK Simmons to float its appeal.
Men, Women and Children deals with many issues faced by people today, We have issues of marriage satisfaction, privacy, image, self-determination and abnormal sexuality tied together across multiple story arcs by the all invasive theme of technology and a narrative about how Carl Sagan reminded us of how minuscule and insignificant we really are. The main story arc falls to the love interests Brandy and Tim who deal with aggressive paternal control and expectations to continue developing their romance. We are given Don and Helen, a married couple who look unbeknownst to each other engage in extra marital affairs to solve discontent in their own sex lives. Donna and Hannah, a mother and daughter so hell bent on fame that their way to get there is dubiously bordering on child pornography. We also get Donna and Kent (Tim;s father) who have flirtatious interactions, Danny (Don’s son) dealing with specific sexual desires (complicated more by Hannah’s interest in him) and Allison who’s rapid weight loss and compulsion to be skinny brings her new male attention and hazardous eating habits.
There is lots to like about Men, Women and Children, the characters all play as realistic, we have known the adulterous husband or the anorexic teen, the controlling mother and the perverted son, but there is too many laid out here too truly empathize with them all and it leads to lulls in the movie. Other characters come across as two dimensional, Jennifer Garner as Brandy’s obsessive mother isn’t fleshed out with intentions and reasoning for her habits and instead plays like a cartoon villain. Certain plot lines land their punches, Don and Helen, played by Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt, nail their performances and i was truly intrigued by their emotional journey while others such as Allison’s struggle with her body image aren’t given much screen time or proper resolution which drags down the movie overall, especially given JK Simmons role as Allison’s father is given very little screen time despite his always flawless delivery.
I started the film half distracted by my phone, which i put down as the stories each started to grab me, especially with a mild social commentary on the pervasive nature of technology in our interactions reminded me to live in the now. By the end of the film I had no epiphany as i hoped was coming. The individual stories were well trodden in previous films, many of them come to either an obvious Hollywood conclusion or no conclusion at all and while i wanted to love the film, I will find it hard to recommend it above other similar films without feeling as i’m doing a disservice. Ansel Elgort delivered another monotone performance in a semi-lead role, my belief in him as a love interest relies solely on the knowledge that girls must like the human equivalent of a charisma black hole. Judy Greer, Dean Norris and Adam Sandler all put in standard performances in the roles assigned to them, they still shine despite the jumbled nature of the film. Young talent in Kaitlyn Dever and Timothee Chalamet is an encouraging bright spark, Reitman’s history of unearthing young talent is evident by now.
Men, Women And Children looks to strike the right beats and will appeal to fans of his earlier work, unfortunately this film isn’t able to cohesively tie up the loose ends its initially unraveled and feels like despite its two hour running time, that too much was left on the cutting room floor. Parts of the film work well, the cast is well chosen and act their parts as required and the mood of the piece is engaging, if not well trodden, A drama about all the prickly parts of life, it may still sit well in Reitman’s growing cult back catalogue, maybe a directors cut sitting at 3 hours will happen, one which i would happily watch to be able to tie up those last few loose ends.