I’ve been looking forward to Jason Reitman’s newest film Men, Women & Children for about a year now, when the film was announced. It also made me excited since Reitman announced that principal photography would take place in Austin, Texas over Christmas of last year and earlier this year. Austin has always been friendly to Reitman, with his previous films Juno, Up in the Air, and Labor Day screening at the Austin Film Festival. Reitman has taken a very strange detour with his career as of recently. He’s started to become more and more mature and darker as a filmmaker, with last year’s Labor Day being a departure from his more satirical work in films like Thank You For Smoking and Up in the Air. And while Labor Day did not quite live up to his previous work (Young Adult was the first Reitman film I saw where I wasn’t head over heels for it), it was still a solid film that was mysteriously ravaged by critics. Men, Women & Children seems to be following that same pattern, as the film currently has a 29 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film finally expanded to theaters here in Austin, and here’s my review of Jason Reitman’s latest.
The film follows the lives of adults and their high school children in Austin, Texas. One is a bored couple played by Adam Sandler and Rosemary DeWitt who have lost their touch, with Sandler developing a love for online pornography, similar to his son. Another storyline involves Judy Greer as a failed actress who tries to jumpstart her daughters acting dreams, with the daughter played by Olivia Crocicchia. Ansel Elgort, who has become the new teenage heart throb with roles in this year’s Divergent and The Fault in our Stars, plays an ex-high school football player whose mother walked out on him and his father, play by Dean Norris. And all of these story lines interconnect with each other, and the connecting factor is the internet. The kids are constantly on Facebook or Twitter, similar to the parents, and they also use the internet to help with their sexual frustrations. And all of this happens to have something to do with The Voyager Space Probe, with Emma Thompson providing her voice as the narrator of the film.
Reitman co-wrote the film with Erin Cressida Wilson based on the novel of the same name by Chad Kultgen, who also serves as a producer on the film. The film is also the first under Reitman’s new production company, Right of Way, with the banner being a wink to Reitman’s masterpiece, Up in the Air. I’ve said on numerous occasions that Up in the Air is not only my favorite film by Jason Reitman, but also one of my favorite films, period. The movie was a witty and satirical look on the world of George Clooney as a man who fires people for a living. It also had a heart of gold, and that heart helped the film claim numerous Oscar nominations that year. That may be the frustration I’ve had with Reitman with his films after Up in the Air, is that I keep thinking that each film he does next will be as good if not better than that film. It’s rare for a filmmaker to repeat the success of a previous film, so maybe I really need to let this want of mine go. I say this because Men, Women & Children is the darkest film Reitman has made yet. The film deals with several topics that many may find taboo, which is surprising since a big studio like Paramount Pictures is distributing the film. There’s a sequence in the film, where Adam Sandler is looking for a hooker, and it gives him the options of what he wants in his escort. There’s a similar scene in the film when his son is becoming sexually frustrated since for years, he has been watching online pornography, and there’s a chance for him to lose his virginity.
It’s interesting because this is the world that we now live in. You don’t have to worry about getting laid or meeting people. All of that is at the tip of your fingers on your computer. And Jennifer Garner plays an overprotective mother who is constantly watching over her daughter’s texts, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and so on. It may sound a little extreme, but I know and know of several parents who practice a similar way with their children. The internet is a bizarre place, and all of us are addicted. I’m addicted, and have been for years. That’s what makes Men, Women & Children a very interesting film, as it examines the lives of these people who use the internet as an escape from their crappy and mundane lives (which is strange because Austin, Texas is far from crappy and mundane). Men, Women & Children is not a great film, but it’s a very interesting and well dune commentary and look into what live is like for a lot of people today. It’s a shame that the MPAA gave this film an R rating, since I feel that this is a very important film for teenagers and their parents see. A lot of the actions by the teenagers in this film are things that I usually will see on a daily occasion, and the film is a sort of cautionary tale for people who are like the characters in the film. The movie never gets preachy, but it does serve as a cautious warning of what the internet can do to people.
The acting is easily the best part of the film. Adam Sandler gives the best performance of his career as a bored suburban father. Judy Greer is really terrific here as the failed actress. But the standouts for me were the performances by Ansel Elgort and Dean Norris. Elgort is a bit of a silent giant, as he goes through his day feeling lost since his mother abandoned him. Norris is especially great since he feels equally lost as his son, and he can’t seem to communicate with him as he’s always playing video games in his dingy room. This is the finest I’ve seen Norris on-screen, and easily he best work since the end of Breaking Bad. I really hope that Dean Norris begins to get more and more work in the movies. Elgort has the makings of a new movie star, and while I didn’t see his work in Divergent or The Fault in our Stars (I live with a teenage girl, I didn’t really care to go to the theater and deal with hundreds of them), I think he’s got a bright future ahead for him.
My biggest problem with the film is pacing. I was never really bored with the film, but it did slow down in the middle. And the film is maybe a bit too serious. Reitman is a great writer, and the film is very well written, but it feels a bit too serious at times. I would have liked for a bit of satire at times, as you feel kind of bummed and depressed most of the time watching the film. I don’t mind if a movie bums me out (Gone Girl is an example), but if the film is really well done across the board, then I can let it slide. I’m not saying Men, Women & Children isn’t well done, it is. But it could have been a lot better. An example being the marketing campaign around the film, with Reitman as usual being involved heavily. The poster that is above this review is really gorgeous, and the trailer for the film that was released over the summer is the best film trailer I’ve seen of 2014 (you can watch it here).
And I still think Jason Reitman is a really talented filmmaker, and one of the best filmmakers working today, but I feel that he’s going through an awkward phase in his career, kind of like how a teenager goes through weird phases. Like all filmmakers and artists, Reitman is still trying to find his voice, and discover what kind of filmmaker he wants to be. He doesn’t have to be labeled as a filmmaker who makes funny and sad movies, but he’s still trying to find a steady rhythm. Men, Women & Children is a good film, not a great film, but Reitman is still experimenting and trying new things out as a director, and that’s fine. Every filmmaker does it, and it isn’t for a while until a filmmaker finds something that really works in all of his films. I still say you should go check the film out, but don’t expect an Up in the Air type film. As I said, I still love Jason Reitman, and I look forward to the next film that he makes, and I’ll be their opening weekend like I was for this film.