What "Men, Women & Children" Gets Wrong About The Internet

BuzzFeed - Latest 2014-09-08


Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, and Ansel Elgort star in Jason Reitman’s movie that reaches for big themes about online life, but just doesn’t connect.

Dale Robinette/Paramount Pictures

The internet, social media, smartphones, and apps have become an integral part of our lives, but movies still struggle to get them right on screen. It's not just the fake alternatives to Google that are used for search scenes, or the insane way any character labeled a "blogger" tends to behave. Nor is it the way things feel dated so quickly. (Though that is a major obstacle — consider how Sandra Bullock's character ordering pizza from a website pre-Seamless in The Net was meant to be a sign of her terrible isolation.) The toughest part is actually how often tech-centric stories, from Swimfan to Sex Tape and everything in between, are heavy-handed cautionary tales. We may all be online, but on screen, it's frequently still just a path to humiliation, loneliness, or ruin.

Jason Reitman's new movie Men, Women & Children, which opens in theaters Oct. 17, is the mother of all finger-wagging internet treatises. The film, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this weekend, is an ensemble drama weaving together the stories of different characters in a Texas suburb who, Crash-style, all embody some sort of online-enabled misery. It's a movie that yearns to be ambitious and timely, to resonate with contemporary life, but it's often so tone deaf, it's a little shocking to think that it came from the now-36-year-old director of Young Adult and Juno. Adapted from contentious author Chad Kultgen's (The Average American Male) novel of the same name, Men, Women & Children feels just as much drawn from Dateline specials and other news scare stories. The internet: It will destroy you.

Dale Robinette/Paramount Pictures

Jennifer Garner plays an uptight housewife who's clearly watched enough Dateline specials herself to panic her into monitoring her daughter (Kaitlyn Dever) like a prisoner: "Remember to take your phone so I can track you!" she chipperly tells the poor kid. And that's just one of Men, Women & Children's many online-enabled character foibles.

There's also a husband (Adam Sandler) and wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) whose marriage has gone stale and who look to an escort website and Ashley Madison for outside sexual satisfaction; a teenager (Ansel Elgort), upset about his mother leaving, who quits the football team and starts investing hours in playing Guild Wars to the bemusement of his father (Dean Norris); said teenager's former teammate (Travis Tope), who finds he's watched so much porn, he can't get an erection around real live girls; a cheerleader (Elena Kampouris) who seeks help from thinspiration forums in her quest to catch the eye of her crush by slimming down even more; and another cheerleader (Olivia Crocicchia) who, with the help of her enabling mother (Judy Greer), maintains a website that threatens to cross into underage porn.

This checklist of internet alarmism also includes anonymous bullying, sexting, and minor catfishing. There's a shot of the mall in which every single person there is on a device — the games they're playing, texts they're sending, and tweets they're reading shown as if they were thought bubbles floating above their heads. As the unseen narrator, Emma Thompson makes solemn observations about the Voyager satellite and the crippling amount of malware preventing a character from jerking off to YouPorn.

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Date tagged:

09/08/2014, 02:50

Date published:

09/08/2014, 02:31