Men, Women & Children
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Written by: Jason Reitman and Erin Cressida Wilson
Starring: Adam Sandler, Rosemarie Dewitt, Judy Greer, Dean Norris, Emma Thompson (narrator), Jennifer Garner, Olivia Crocicchia, Ansel Elgort, Kaitlyn Dever and Elena Kampouris
Curiously, Men, Women & Children is categorized as being a comedy/drama. Truth is, there’s nothing funny about it. Children takes a bleak look at where our technology is taking us. Director Jason Reitman (Up in the Air, Juno) delivers a heavy-handed cautionary tale about our obsession for all things electronic, and our increasing inability to connect to one another at a rudimentary level.
Children interweaves the stories of a handful of parents and their children in Austin. The circumstances vary, but each family struggles in one way or another with the encroachment of the digital age.
Adam Sandler plays Don, a husband and father who has become so reliant on porn that he can no longer masturbate without being shackled to his computer. His neglected and jaded wife Helen (Rosemarie Dewitt) seeks companionship outside the marriage with the aid of an internet dating site. Their son Chris (Travis Tope) follows in dad’s footsteps and is so immersed in internet porn that he largely ignores the advances of high school cheerleader Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia).
Hannah’s mother Donna (Judy Greer) exploits her daughter by setting up a website and posting provocative photos of her. Donna celebrates when Hannah gets a new “subscriber” by presenting her with a sleazy outfit she can wear in the next photo shoot. Star quarterback Tim (Ansel Elgort) quits the team so he can devote his time to gaming, and hovercraft mom Patricia monitors daughter Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever) so tightly that she literally cannot make a move without Patricia’s knowledge. And the march of misery in this Austin suburb goes on and on.
I get what Reitman is trying to do, but Children is merely a compilation of depressing stories illuminating how far removed our society has become from real, meaningful relationships. Now it’s all about smoke and mirrors. Anyone can reinvent themselves on the internet. Case in point: the 2010 documentary Catfish.
A bright spot for Children is the terrific ensemble cast. The seasoned character actors (Greer, Dewitt, Dennis Haysbert, Dean Norris) are great, but the real surprise is the younger cast members. Each one of them conveys the angst and loneliness of a teenager with polished poise. Elena Kampouris is particularly good as Allison, who frequently trolls the anorexia websites for tips on starving herself. Her painful insecurity makes her easy prey for an older high school boy.
Children had a big impact on me, but it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. I’ve got preteen kids. I’’m already sufficiently schooled in the dangers of the internet, and there’s precious little I can do about it aside from keeping an open and honest dialogue with my kids. I left the theater feeling empty and depressed, just like the majority of the characters. – Shannon