Summary : Beautifully penned, expertly performed and laden with hard-hitting truth, Jason Reitman has crafted a film - and indeed a commentary - for our digital age.
As the curtain closed on Jason Reitman‘s latest adaptation, a very heavy sense of irony lingers throughout the Odeon Leicester Square as all us critics jump on Facebook and Twitter to comment on a film which paints a crippling and bruising portrait of our technological dependencies. That’s not to say Men, Women & Children as a whole is without heart or emotion, on the contrary. Using the Internet, smartphones and Wi-Fi signalling as a filmic landscape, Reitman crafts a beautifully transient, profoundly poignant and irrecoverably related character drama which channels strands of our modern society superbly.
The film follows a cluster of high-schoolers and their parents as they attempt to prosper, build relationships and most importantly live, in the digital age we have become so accustomed to. The internet has altered our perceptions of love, body image, work ethics, management, sexuality and indeed interaction. As each character is tried and tested in their own personal – and private – scenarios, Reitman’s saga delicately interweaves to provide a densely populated yet intrinsically personal human drama.
Adapted from Chad Kultgen‘s little-known novel, Reitman and co-writer Erin Cressinda Wilson exercise their cast, environments and most particularly points throughout to build a somewhat social retrospective. We venture behind closed doors and examine the nuclear family laden with adultery, the son whose sexual fantasies have elevated to particularly disturbing heights due to pornography addiction, the daughter whom has developed an eating disorder so she will be deemed desirable by the grunting Quarterback, and even the mother who looms over her child’s every online move; like a CIA tracking system pin-pointing a potential threat. The film starts as a street – one with a directed path – but before long, numerous avenues appear along the sidewalks; all detailed in design and all explored with nuanced credibility.
Some may comment on the extremer natures of Men, Women & Children, and that it somewhat shuns the idea of the iPhone culture of today; the widow and gateway to the entire world whilst you sit comfortably on the sofa, but never does the film wholly preach the negativity of the technology – it’s rather a football field – one that’s trodden on, dived upon and felt the force of a season’s touchdowns. What really matters here is the characters; the community of the film, the molecules which consume, preserve and prevail in frame. All the quaint and quiet complexities, the facades and masks we wear, the crooked smiles and the stinging tears – Reitman’s camera poetically studies its subjects and consequently forms a work of the utmost dignity.
The ensemble cast is fantastic; Short Term 12‘s Kaitlyn Dever is the stand-out as Brandy; the young outcaster whose overbearing mother (Jennifer Garner) demands phone content spot-checks, weekly history searches, detailed IM chat analysis and even dictates who is allowed to call or message her. Dever’s performance is like a clock, slowly ticking, cranking tighter and more painfully each minute. Garner too is brilliant as the ‘for-your-own-good’ borderline sociopath. Ansel Elgort flexes tenderly here too by opening a new platform for his acting. Rarely is he this vulnerable and sheltered; a wallowing soul locked inside a teddy bear-huggable shell.
Judy Greer, Rosemarie DeWitt, Olivia Crocicchia, Elena Kampouris and Dean Norris are also excellent, and then there’s Adam Sandler. Penning these words seems almost unfathomable but alas…he is brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. That blank, almost hollowly smirked face, the hooded eyes and patchy beard: he embodies a middle-aged man emotionally and spiritually trapped. Not since Punch-Drunk Love has Sandler been so splendidly rendered. A moment discussing breakfast is riddled with wringing tension and sorrow.
There doesn’t seem like a more appropriate time for Men, Women & Children to grace our screens; it encaptures a moment, a fleeting phase, albeit a world-altering one. For every mouse-click, screen-tap, copy, paste and drag, there is a body behind it – an entity which serves a minuet, but unquestionably important piece in a global puzzle. Reitman could have come at this picture with social-political daggers and formed more of a statement than a film, but being the smart and rehearsed auteur that he is, we are offered a poised, plausible and palpable commentary which rings loud enough to make you want to ignore that What’sApp message and draft that burning Tweet…
Men, Women & Children screens tonight as the May Fair Hotel Gala and reaches UK cinemas on 5th December.