In this world of technology, there are always the movies that attempt to remind us about our humanity; “Men, Women & Children” attempts to do just that. Opening in limited release today and nationwide October 17, this movie explores how the internet, i.e. social media, smart phones, and personal websites, has influenced our views on society and relationships.
Director and writer Jason Reitman (“Juno”, “Up in the Air”) along with Erin Cressida Wilson (“Secretary”) adapts this novel, of the same name, by Chad Kultgen for the big screen. This movie has quite an ensemble cast of both big names Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner and Emma Thompson as well as lesser-known actors Dean Norris (“Breaking Bad”, “Under the Dome”), Kaitlyn Dever (“Last Man Standing”), and Ansel Elgort (“Divergent”, “The Fault in Our Stars”). This mix of awkward, offbeat comedy with harsh reality suits both the material and this assorted cast.
(Spoiler Alert: Discussion of plot below)
This movie tells the story of high school students and their parents as it examines the impact of social media/internet on their lives. Emma Thompson narrates throughout this movie offering metaphoric insight into the lives of the characters in relation the Voyager space probe and the “A Pale Blue Dot” image. The image instills in audiences the continuously reoccurring theme of our minor place in the world and the universe.
Audiences venture the halls of high school with Tim Mooney (Ansel Elgort), ex star football player, whose very being embodies this idea of how little our existence seems in the grand scheme of things. Elgort offers a tender, gripping performance that both highlights struggles and stirs the emotions. His mother recently abandoned him and his father, Kent Mooney (Norris), who struggles to find common ground with his son as he slips into the world of a computer video game. Norris offers a rather touching, emotional performance as he struggles to understand his son and get himself back on his feet following his wife’s sudden departure.
Brandy Beltmeyer (Dever) becomes a love interest and comrade for Tim. Her overbearing, internet fearing, GPS tracking mother (Garner) makes her home like a prison. She tracks all messages from phone or online as well as maintains all her password. Tim and Brandy’s story seems to be the heart of this movie as we find ourselves relating or sitting back in horror as we watch this mother manipulate and all but ruin her daughter’s life as well as the lives of those around her.
Garner plays this character most easily characterized as a villain with eerie ease as she snoops and probes. Audiences will have a hard time doing anything but hating her character as we see only this crazy controlling mother, who seems to have little cause except the fear that the internet is not safe. Dever plays this quiet, awkward character with a tenderness and compassion that is a contrast to her crazy mother. Audiences can’t help but fall in love with this shy, well meaning teenage girl who is just trying to do her best despite her mother’s constant needless badgering.
Cheerleaders, Allison (Elena Kampouris), who is a struggling anorexic and overly sexualized Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia) who dreams of Hollywood stardom, additionally serves to paint the picture of the hazards of the internet. Each of these teens though depicting various struggles, hinge on their discoveries or interactions online. Hannah’s mother Joan Clint (Judy Greer) walks the thin line between encouraging her daughter’s search for stardom and sending her down a dangerous path of older men and sexual desires. Greer plays this struggling mother, torn between giving her daughter her shot and pushing the envelope with gut wrenching conviction. Her performance moves audiences as they watch her struggle with if her choices are right or wrong.
The Truby family, father Don (Adam Sandler), wife Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) and son Chris (Travis Tope), all seem to represent the themes of this movie. Don is the quiet, typical working father; he does what he needs and has a healthy sexual appetite. Rachel is a career woman that seems bored with her job and her life, and decides to look for excitement elsewhere. Chris is their sexually deviant son who mildly seems addicted to internet porn.
Sandler has a surprising moving and touching performance. He offers a heartfelt, somber performance that speaks to the realities of our everyday life. DeWitt is a good screen partner as she goes from dull to risky and exciting. In the end, she is faced with a choice of what is more important what she has or what she desires. Tope seems a bit one dimensional in the sense that audiences don’t really get to see if he does or does not grow. His performance falls a bit flat in comparison to some of the other gripping, emotional performances.
Overall, the awkward, soul-searching indie feel of this movie seems to get muddled and lost by the end. Despite multiple moving performances, this movie seems to fizz out just as it needs to stand on its convictions and look at reality, no matter how grim or troublesome. A relevant social commentary that seems to forget it is trying to comment on reality and not present the watchers with a storybook ending so they leave the theater with a lighthearted feeling. In this modern age of technology and smart phones, we all need that reminder that we need to connect face to face to those around us. This movie reminds us that from time to time we might need to put the phones away, turn off the computers and actually talk to those around us, the status updates and tweets will be there waiting when we decide to plug back in.