Review: "Men, Women & Children" offers take on technology's effects on human relationships
Beep! Tap. Tap. Click. Click. Click.
These all-too-familiar rhythmic sounds make up the soundtrack of the new digital age. Every single day, every single one of us partakes in an elaborate musical act where smartphones, tablets, and laptops are the instruments of melodic choice. Technology, literally in the palm of our hands, has weaved its way into the core of our society inherently affecting our very being as individuals and as a whole.
Jason Reitman’s newest film, “Men, Women, & Children,” examines just how modern technology has influenced our daily lives, significantly impacting our interpersonal relationships within our families, friends, and our selves. It tackles the theoretical notion of how the very tools intended to bring people together are the same ones behind the solitary seclusion of many from tangible reality and into the fictional online world.
Seen through the interconnected stories of several distinctive characters, Reitman effectively explores the theme of human interaction in the Internet age, though not without flaws, highlighted by excessive pornography, violent virtual games and the consequences of sex and secrecies in the cyber world.
The film, which is an adaptation of a controversial Chad Kultgen (“The Average American Male”, “The Lie”) novel with the same title published in 2011, begins with a shot of The Voyager I space probe orbiting our outer solar system, as Earth appears in the background resembling a mere pale blue dot in the universe, as explained by Carl Sagan.
Meanwhile, Emma Thompson’s divine voice cascading with wit and humor echoes on as she narrates the superficiality of our human behavior throughout the film – one such instance is in the beginning when she describes as one of the characters masturbates to an online porn video called “Titty-Fucked Cum Queen”. The tone of Thompson’s voice is the perfect icing on the humorous cake, subtle yet clever.
The intertwining lives of the characters are each put on a spotlight as the audience learns about their complex, yet simple, relationships with one another. Though clearly not as salacious as its book counterpart, “Men, Women and Children” essentially captures the sexual nature of humans and the large role the Internet plays on each individual most especially because of the strong sexual saturation the web delivers with just one click of a button. It sufficiently emphasizes how feasible it is for someone to simultaneously be personally connected yet be emotionally detached in this digital age.
Adam Sandler plays Don Truby, a horny, paunchy suburban father who has succumbed to the swallowing pits of pornography as his marriage and sex life disintegrate right before his eyes. His wife, Helen (played by Rosemarie Dewitt), also finds herself gradually getting sucked in to an online escort service as a means to achieve sexual pleasure her marriage is lacking.
Don and Helen’s son, Chris (as portrayed by Travis Tope), is a teenage high school jock whose addiction to online porn started at a very young age, rendering him incapable of arousal through actual physical human interaction with aspiring actress/model/celebrity, cheerleader Hannah Clint (played by Olivia Crocicchia).
Judy Greer’s character as Hannah’s mother, Donna, manages her daughter’s website where she posts suggestive photos she herself took of Hannah in hopes of reaching stardom the former failed to attain in her younger years. Donna starts to date Kent Mooney (played by actor Dean Norris) whose wife has left him and son, high school football star player Tim (played by the charming Ansel Elgort), for California with another man. Due to the devastation and void his mother has left behind, Tim quits the football team and instead finds comfort conquering dungeons in the virtual game of Guild Wars.
He meets Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever), who finds solace with her raunchy online alter-ego on a micro-blogging site, unbeknownst to her overbearing and overprotective mother, Patricia Beltmeyer (convincingly portrayed by Jennifer Garner), who spends most of her time tracking her daughter’s every move on the web and blocking any communication she may deem inappropriate.
And then there’s Elena Kampouris’ vulnerable and insecure character, blonde cheerleader Allison, who suffers from anorexia, and finds support from a website called “Thin2Win”, and whose lack of self-esteem relegates her to be sexually taken advantage of. Frankly speaking, Elena’s storyline felt more like a filler which could have been omitted from the film and it would still stand as it is meant to.
Standout performances from veterans Sandler and Garner provide further realism and depth to this comedy-drama’s ensemble cast. Sandler proves to be a capable serious dramatic actor outside of his usual comedic comfort zone, most notably during a bar scene where he finds his wife with another man. Garner, on the other hand, depict a suffocating and controlling mother so well that to feel empathy for her daughter is inevitable.
However, it is Ansel Elgort’s portrayal of Tim Mooney that leaves a riveting mark on the big screen. His charismatic presence alone is enough to captivate the hearts of the audience. One remarkable scene, a close up shot of his face as tears roll down his cheeks, displayed such raw emotion without being overly dramatic. You simply can’t help but feel for the guy.
Reitman’s use of graphics to the film’s cinematography also adds a layer of representation of modern technology to its premise – such as instant messaging bubbles and web browser tabs seen side by side on screen with the actor, creating a more personal and intimate setting with the moviegoers.
As the end credits roll in, it becomes clear that “Men, Women, & Children” ambitiously attempts to educate more so than to entertain. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it undeniably presents an alarming look to the enormous impact modern technology has on human development.