Men, Women & Children (London Film Festival 2014) Review

Jason Reitman discovers entering a Wi-Fi password will ruin your life.

Coming to a recycle bin icon near you, Men, Women & Children could easily be a written statement from director Jason Reitman confessing to being an alien from outer space who’s never seen how real human beings interact. That’s the inadvertent impression given by an introduction of a satellite orbiting the solar system while Emma Thompson clumsily narrates grand statements that ask every big question apart from: when will Reitman make a decent movie again?

It’s hard to know where to start with a story consisting of 12 character sketches, no human beings, and one of the worst Scrabble players ever in movie history. Perhaps the most memorable – I mean that in a negative way – relationship is young Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever) whose every online move is tracked by a nosey mother (Jennifer Garner) who’s more of a human version of Norton Antivirus, given how she scans through her daughter’s computer, Facebook messages and internet history. It’s absurdly over-the-top, especially due to its rushed screen time that cements Garner with no other attributes, and is barely the start.

At least Brandy’s character serves another tickbox when she makes another connection via a messaging function of Tumblr with Tim (Ansel Elgort), who don’t seem to have anything in common other than they’re the only two people on the internet who use Tumblr primarily for messaging. (Twitter barely features, if you’re wondering.) Tim spends too much playing computer games, much to the ire of his divorced father (Dean Norris) who wishes his son would just concentrate on sports. Funnily enough, that’s how we’re linked to Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia), an overtly sexual cheerleader and classmate with a side-career being photographed semi-nude for an online portfolio set up by her mother (Judy Greer). But then there’s a whole other family consisting of porn-obsessed Chris (Travis Tope), and his parents (Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt) who separately cheat on each other through web dating. Sandler’s character unbelievable does so by spotting an undressed woman in an internet popup, before reaching for a credit card.

These strands connect with each other, but never the audience. Despite a broad title, internet addiction is painted (via Paintshop Pro) as a problem for straight, white middle-class families. Reitman has often been accused – sometimes unfairly – of being a closeted reactionary, stemming from the pro-life undercurrent of Juno to the pie-roofing disaster of Labor Day. However, his latest is completely out of touch in its sensationalist treatment of mobile phones as one of the forefront enemies to the traditional family model. When DeWitt’s character wastes a “Z” tile in a singular word during a game of Scrabble, it’s apparent Reitman can’t do anything right at the moment.

The smug, zeitgeist-y premise proposes that the internet is the latest threat to the nuclear family, but actually it’ll cause more lasting damage via social media upon Reitman’s credibility. Panicked by modern trends, he’s left to exclaim: won’t somebody think of the children? The internet: enter a Wi-Fi password; see your life ruined.

’Men, Women & Children” is playing London Film Festival 2014 as part of the Virgin Atlantic Gala. Ticket information can be found here.

Nick Chen

Updated: Oct 10, 2014

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