MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN looks terrific, but is its cautionary message worth your time?
In Director/Writer Jason Reitman’s MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN, we see a world where the Internet has seemingly taken over our lives. Parents are constantly on their phones or tablets, and teens seem to have grown an extra body part, with one dependent on the other for everything except sustenance. Content to communicate on this digital highway, rather than have traditional person-to-person relationships, teens exist in a hyper-live world where sex, porn, and cyber-bullying are the orders of the day. And while Reitman’s mostly right, the home release is a bit all over the place, with great video, good audio, and a amount selection of supplements.
Chronicling the lives of four families in Austin, Texas, we learn of the wanna-be sexually promiscuous cheerleader Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia) and her failed actress mother (Judy Greer) who post racy photos of Hannah for profit. They’re also hoping Hannah will be selected to the reality show “America’s Next Big Celebrity,” paving the way for Hannah’s career in L.A. There’s the helicopter-protective mother Patricia (Jennifer Garner), who’s constantly checking the phone and computer of her daughter Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever). hoping to expose and punish her perceived online behavior. Brandy soon falls for a former high school football player (Ansel Elgort), who’s deeply confused after his mother abruptly left him and father Kent (Dean Norris). With one family struggling to communicate after the divorce, another is on life support as Don (Adam Sandler) and Helen (Rosemarie DeWitt) turn to online dating sites rather than deal with their problems. As these and other stories of teens struggling to find themselves meander their way to the end, our families must turn to each other for support by employing good old-fashioned communication, something which in this digital world has left them almost incapable of doing.
Reitman and co-Writer Erin Cressida Wilson do a decent job of juggling the many elements from the novel by Chad Kultgen. They’re not afraid to tell these stories, and the results are sometimes engrossing and other times forgettable. And while the general topic is timely and probably important, it’s the sheer amount of stories that they’re asking us to follow which ultimately damages the film. Ultimately, what you get is a focus on three, making the other two seem unneeded distractions. Reitman wants to tell such a connected, immersive tale that he ultimately tells too many of them, wrapping our characters in situations that soon make nearly everyone look completely awful. What he and Wilson do well is show how each weaves a web of lies to rationalize their positions before each ultimately breaks down. These impending disasters are ours to witness, and could perhaps serve as cautionary tales for our children to mark well.
The cast is top-shelf, including Garner and Greer, who portray intensely screwed-up characters representing opposite sides of the digital spectrum. And while a bit tragic, their stories seem eerily real and relatable even though we know they’re not in the least bit acceptable. A large-and-in-charge Sandler is actually…good… here, learning about his wife’s infidelity while he himself embarks on a series of expensive trysts. DeWitt and first fling Dennis Haysbert have good chemistry as Don begins to realize that his wife’s excursions to her sister’s house are actually hookups of her own. These stories, and the performances of Elgort, Dever, and Crocicchia, drive much of the movie, making everyone else’s stories feel largely unneeded. We get a bulimia story featuring Elena Kampouris as a pencil-thin sophomore who bows to the pressures of sex and starvation to fit in and the son Travis Tope whose addiction to extreme porn makes him physically unable to perform.
It’s a sobering tale to be sure, but one could have worked a mile deeper instead of a mile wider. Sure, parents will find this tale sobering, but what of the people for which it’s really intended? Teens will pass this one up in heartbeat, largely because of the sheer number of stories and rather dull way Reitman goes about telling most of them. Perhaps his audience should be the adults, hoping they will pass on its cautionary messages to their children. Not everything here is heavy-handed: one bit of levity arrives in the narration done by Emma Thompson while the Voyager spacecraft careens to its destiny in deep space. It’s great to hear a Shakespeare-trained actress using words not suitable for this review in describing some of the sites he and his son visit to become arosed.
MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN won’t serve as a wakeup call to teens, the ones who probably need it the most, because they’ve never known a world without the Connected Life. This is not THE BREAKFAST CLUB, but its message (when it gets around to it) is pretty close on point. In a world where we don’t really know how the Internet will ultimately affect us, MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN is not as effective as it could have been. Perhaps parents will see past its issues and use it to have serious conversations with their children. If this film can at least get the conversation started, I’d count it as a success.
Paramount’s beautiful transfer of MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN is perhaps its best feature. The MPEG-4/AVC image is crisp and well-defined throughout, from the Voyager spacecraft to the human drama on Earth. Those space images are downright gorgeous, showing off such detail that you might think you were hurtling your way in to oblivion. Earthbound features stand up to be counted as well, such as individual strands of hair, moles on Sandler’s face, and even eyelashes. Clothing shows off wrinkles and pulls in fabric, while the stage for our story is immersed in color. In fact, the entire print contains a rich color palette, with realistic skintones working side-by-side with the green of the football field, the brightness of the mall, and other natural aspects. We’re not talking HD-demo quality which always looks over-saturated; this print matches the rather gritty realism of the movie. Black levels are likewise sufficiently deep with shadows transitioning to darks quite effectively. All in all, it’s a surprisingly attractive print for a film of this type.
MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN employs a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio field that’s immersive at parts and misses the chance at others. From the opening scene, we hear the varied sounds contained on the Voyager’s golden record, each of which erupts from different speakers. I had to go back to listen to each, but its mere inclusion was a nice touch. Unfortunately, that experience is not really duplicated or matched throughout the film, limiting the story to the center channel’s clear and easy to hear dialogue. There is some branching out, as the soundtrack of various artists sets the roadmap for the story, while scenes at the mall do ring out in the rears. A movie like this doesn’t have the heavy demands of an action or period piece, but there is proof here that Paramount has crafted a rather gentle track, letting the story lead instead of the soundfield. Therefore, don’t expect too much from the LFE – which does come out to play once in awhile – or the forward speakers which push the tunes and other limited sound effects once in a great while. Overall, it does the work for which it was intended.
- Virtual Intimacy (13:29): A rather unique look at the impact of technology on our culture, in which we’re essentially living in two lives: one digital, the other real. Our actors and crew gather to discuss how the film’s themes are a mirror on our current times.
- Seamless Interface (8:29): Visual Effects Supervisor Gareth Smith examines the various aspects of the film’s efforts to show the Internet on-screen. It’s a new format and one that Smith believes will become more commonplace in movies. It’s a nice technical discussion, but not anywhere near the value of a director’s commentary.
- Deleted Scenes: There’s an interesting – but ultimately unneeded – selection here, including ADDITIONAL STORYLINE BROOKE AND DANNY (6:36), A DATE (1:11), JUST A MAN (0:51), PHONE DROP-OFF (0:32), and WHATEVER YOU WANT (0:38).
There was no slipcase provided, and at the time of this posting we were not aware of any special editions. Finally, a UV/iTunes Digital Copy is included.
MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN is a satisfactory cautionary tale that’s a bit too predictable and features several one-note characters trying to look as if what they’re doing is worth our time. It’s more of a look at the current state of the Internet, and therefore something which perhaps might be relatable in a decade. Parents will probably connect with it, while the kids will be too busy on their phones to notice. The Blu-ray impresses with excellent audio and video, but its lack of supplements and niche market appeal make it hard to justify a purchase. You’re better off streaming or renting it on physical media, unless you find it in the local bargain bin. There are just too many better films of this type that deserve your attention.
MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN is rated R for strong sexual content including graphic dialogue throughout-some involving teens, and for language and has a runtime of 119 minutes.