Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) takes a stab at our social media-filled lives in Men, Women and Children, an ensemble drama exploring the effects of technology on a group of hormonal teenagers and their concerned parents.
Jennifer Garner plays the most paranoid parent you can imagine. Obsessed with her daughter Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever)’s online activity, she follows everything she clicks, reviews her Facebook messages nightly, and uses GPS to track her movements. It’s gotten so bad, that when Brandy gets an innocent crush on Tim (Ansel Elgort), it’s not long before her mum finds out about it. But Tim has problems of his own. His parents have recently separated, and he’s looking for an escape, turning to online role play games instead of the friends in the school football team he used to hang around with. His dad Kent (Dean Norris) is concerned and lonely, and turns to Donna (Judy Greer) who he met at a ‘Parents Against Technology’ meeting. They start dating until he finds out that she posts nearly-nude pictures of her daughter Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia) online in a bid to kickstart her acting career. Hannah, meanwhile, is desperate to lose her virginity, and has chosen porn-addicted Chris (Travis Tope) as her first lay, only, he can’t get started when it comes to the real thing. His parents, Don (Adam Sandler) and Helen (Rosemarie DeWitt) are both secretly sleeping with people they met on the internet, but can’t admit it. That leaves Allison (Elena Kampouris), whose crash dieting has turned her skeletal, and whose obsession with pro-ana websites feeds her mental illness.
Reitman seems to highlight a few problems for today’s teens; the availability hardcore porn, the addictive nature of online gaming and the abundance of websites that encourage an unhealthy body image. When teens are naturally shy and self conscious, these are issues that should be addressed, with parents given guidance and teens given advice before they stumble across something they’re not ready to see.
However, Reitman gives extreme examples of each case, shocking the audience into taking note and uses so many characters that it feels cluttered and overlong. With fewer families to keep track of, the film could’ve delved deeper into more of the issues, rather than just brushing the surface. With four families and a couple of extra characters thrown in, there’s only a couple of minutes at the end to resolve some of the plotlines in the 2 hour running time.
At least it’s an intriguing subject and well acted by all. The unexpected narration by Emma Thompson is a joy, and it’s refreshing to see Adam Sandler show some subtlety in a role. With a cast like this, you might think it could get bogged down in teenage hissy fits and teary outbursts, but thankfully it doesn’t, and there are some sweet and true to life (read awkward) moments tucked away too.
Men, Women and Children will be released in the UK on November 28th.