If you’re reading this online, it’s too late for you.
We’re all utterly insignificant, and even if we manage to concede our hopelessness on a grand scale, our fleeting, meaningless lives are nonetheless engulfed by mistakes and perpetual misery. At least, that’s what Jason Reitman seems to be peddling in his new film, Men, Women and Children. It’s a movie that thinks it’s funny and yet we never laugh. It reaches for some lofty emotional beats and yet we’re never moved. What is Reitman’s film really trying to say about us? His first mistake was building a world that resembles our own superficially but in actuality is so far removed from normal that any insight into the reality of human nature (is that what Reitman is going for? Hard to say.) is impossible.
Men, Women and Children is a grim film, perhaps best exemplified by a scene in which an overweight Adam Sandler peruses the website of an escort service, selecting attributes (“partially shaved”) as one might while evaluating the benefits of Thin And Crispy over Stuffed Crust. In a better film, this scene might have offered some comment on the way in which the Internet automises our relations with others. No such luck. Men, Women and Children favours hasty abbreviations over considered inquiry. Internet bad. Four legs good.
The film revolves around middle class white people with corresponding problems. Sandler is Don Truby, a middle-aged nothing character, who turns to escorts because he and his wife aren’t connecting sexually anymore. His wife, Helen (Rosemarie DeWitt) is certainly connecting sexually, just not with him – she seemingly spends most of her time trawling dating sites in search of one night stands. Their son, Chris (Travis Tope) has gradually developed a taste for a particularly extreme brand of porn, and worries that his enthusiasm for anything less sexually drastic is waning.
There’s also Patricia Beltmeyer (Jennifer Garner) and Donna Clint (Judy Greer), two mothers pushing their children in troubling directions. Clint, a failed actress, takes inappropriate photos of daughter Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia) and sells them to strangers online (you know, situations we can all relate to), while Beltmeyer polices her daughter Brandy’s (Kaitlyn Dever) internet usage to such a socially crippling degree. We know that Brandy is different because she reads books.
There are other characters, a heap of them, but they’re all about as exciting to watch as an A4 piece of paper lying on a concrete floor. It’s not the fault of the actors, who are almost universally energetic despite their hands being tied by an awful premise and script. Dean Norris and Judy Greer fare best, almost managing to break free of the bleak confines of their nothingness. We are lonelier than ever, despite connection to the entire world being at the tip of our fingers. There’s an interesting thought somewhere in there but amidst a promising opportunity for satire and subtlety Reitman instead saturates his film and its characters with relentless contempt.