Review: Men, Women & Children (TIFF 2014)
PLOT: An examination of the way technology influences the values and sexuality of a close-knit suburban community.
REVIEW: Among the flurry of big premieres to hit TIFF this year, one of the the most polarizing titles proved to be Jason Reitman's MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN. Some are hailing it as a sobering indictment of our times, while others say it's a melodramatic, achingly sincere mess. The truth is somewhere in the middle. While it can't be said that Reitman hasn't made a film of our time, his second foray into drama, following LABOR DAY, is unfocused, which keeps it from being the truly great film it had the potential to be, and sometimes actually is.
This is another of those multi-character studies in the style of CRASH, chock-full of actors looking to switch gears, including a prominent part for Adam Sandler as a sexually frustrated suburban dad. The problem is that the movie tends to dwell on the star parts, including Jennifer Garner as a near-psychotically over-protective mother, rather than on the more intriguing stories which involve the children of the title, most of which are unresolved by the time the credits roll.
If anyone is really effected by the huge leaps in technology, it's today's youth, and Reitman's movie acknowledges that in some intriguing ways. One of the most interesting parts involves Sandler's porn-addict son, whose been bombarded with so much easy to find hardcore pornography over-the-years that his sexual tastes have become permanently warped, leaving him unable to have a normal sexual relationship. Another interesting story involves the Judy Greer character's daughter, a great-looking girl who's been objectified with her own mother starting a modelling website for her in the hope of turning her daughter into a star.
Of the kids, only the Ansel Elgort and Kailyn Dever characters get any real insight. Elgort, who broke out this summer with THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, fares well as a former jock, who's quit football and has since become addicted to online gaming, which he uses to cover up the pain of his mother abandoning his family. Dean Norris (BREAKING BAD) is excellent as his father, who while your typical football dad refreshingly isn't portrayed as a boor. Dever plays Elgort's love interest, the daughter of Garner's psycho internet-watchdog, whose ways of monitoring her daughter's activities and interfering with her life become extremely melodramatic in the final act.
The biggest issue with Reitman's film is that it feels so much like a deliberate attempt by him to be taken seriously, to the point that any kind of comedic moment is avoided, making this a pretty morose film. It also goes way overboard into melodrama towards the end, although it can't be said that the twists aren't affecting, even if they feel extremely manipulative. Adding to this is the on-the-nose narration by Emma Thompson, which feels tacked on.
Yet, even though it's extremely flawed MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN is still an effective film. The performances (including Sandler's) are good, and it also has a terrific, electronica-style score by Bibio. It's a mixed bag, but overall it has something important to say, which is always something worth celebrating.
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