“Like it or not, for the moment The Earth is where we make our stand.”
After the release of his first three movies, Jason Reitman seemed on track to be one of America’s next great film makers. Thank You for Smoking was way more mature and confident than anything a first time director in his 20s should be able to make. And with Juno and Up in the Air, the Oscar nominations seemed to indicate an industry and audience acceptance. Then came Young Adult, not a big hit, but respected by those who did see it. But things took a real turn with Labor Day. A movie I thought was perfectly OK, but everyone else who saw it found it comically terrible. But last year, that reaction looked like a blockbuster compared to Reitman’s latest effort, Men, Women & Children.
It’s your typical seedy underbelly of the pristine suburbs situation. Behind the manicured lawns and American flags hanging from porches are damaged people, barley getting by. And technology is to blame for it all. In one family, a husband (Adam Sandler) and wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) lay side by side in bed, silently playing Words with Friends against each other, while their teenaged son (Travis Tope) already struggles with sexual dysfunction after growing up with internet access to the world’s kinkiest porn has desensitized him to it.
There’s the mother (Jennifer Garner) who monitors every text, email, Facebook message and online interaction of her daughter (Kaitlyn Dever). Another mother daughter combo (Judy Greer and Olivia Crococchia) who team up to post sexy photos of Crococchia online in the hopes that she might have the showbiz career that escaped her mother. And the troubled ex-star of the football team (Ansel Elgot) who quit sport to spend all his time playing RPG’s online.
OK, so the general premise is nothing new or fresh. The suburban setting, the digital addictions of modern society, the empty relationships and social detachments. It’s all stuff we’ve seen plenty of times before. So on a story level, Men, Women & Children didn’t really blow me away. But the performances that tell those stories are really great all round. Adam Sandler is in serious, Punch Drunk Love mode, and everyone gets their little showcase moments.
But the best thing about Men, Women & Children is the visual aesthetic. Reitman integrates the online and digital world of these people in a really cool, original way. No cut aways to phone screens or computer monitors. He makes the information on their screens a real, tangible part of the environment. Which works, because this whole movie is built on people living their entire lives through those screens.
Men, Women & Children made less than $1million at the US box office. That’s not a flop, that’s monumental bed shitting of Gigli proportions. And this movie really doesn’t deserve the stank that will follow it around forever. Actually, the stank will only be obvious to people who know that this movie actually exists. Which seems to be pretty minimal. Men, Women & Children isn’t a great movie, but it’s a lot better than its flopitdue indicates.
It’s also more evidence that Jason Reitman is a really interesting, unique film maker. He just needs a new way of choosing scripts. Because for whatever reason, the world has had zero interest in seeing his last three releases. But I’ve seen them and even liked them. So I really want Reitman to have another hit before people stop giving him money to make stuff.