The critical consent for Men, Women & Children has been wholly negative. It currently holds a 28% on Rotten Tomatoes, but I will argue that it is not as bad as critics are making it out to be. Jason Reitman (director of Juno and Up in the Air) brings to life a morality tale about human relationships in the Internet age. It’s quite an undertaking to dissect an entire generation’s current culture, and Reitman has some successes and fails in doing so.
The film follows multiple storylines that at times can be very Lifetime movie-esque, but also with shining moments of truly great dramatic work. There’s an overprotective mom (Jennifer Garner) who tracks every inch of her daughter’s texting, Facebook and Google search life (she even tracks where she’s going through her phone). There’s a teenage boy (Ansel Elgort) who quits football after becoming obsessed with video games. Another teenage boy who is so obsessed with pornography that he doesn’t know how to be with a real live girl. A couple (Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt) who turn to online dating to have affair. A mom (Judy Greer) who posts racy photos of her teenage girl on an acting website. An anorexic girl who scours thinspo on Tumblr who tries to be with an older boy, even though he treats her like absolute dirt.
Some of these storylines are dropped and the character developments are a bit rushed. The porn storyline raises some good questions, and a fairly realistic look at the expectations teenage boys have and how that can be damaging but it could’ve been delved into more. And others, as engaging as they could be, seemed to drag on a bit making the movie feel far longer than it’s two-hour running time.
Emma Thompson bookends the film with narration as a watchful God over Earth, with several scenes taking place in space and viewing Earth. A lot of these tried to be a lot more hard-hitting and deep than they ending up being, but Emma Thompson’s narration provided some great dry humor and laughs. The entire cast gives great work, especially from Jennifer Garner and Adam Sandler (He oddly enough is better in dramatic roles than his stale comedies he keeps putting out) Perhaps the best performance is Ansel Elgort (from The Fault in Our Stars) as the quiet and depressed teenager. He gives an incredibly honest and moving performance.
Many critics are criticizing the film for showing only a negative affect on social media. But this isn’t the whole case. There’s a scene when the overprotective mother realizes that she has been too hard on her daughter, that in a world with danger at your fingertips and screen communication, there can still be an honest and human connection. The film does portray the actual acts of communication between social media well rather than the reactions to and effects of it, which are very overdramatic and overblown.
This is probably one of the first films to so continuously and accurately show how we communicate in this day and age. It is interesting to see how filmmaking is changing to reflect our modern life. You see the texting bubbles hanging over everyone’s head, the search and Facebook pages scrolling on screen. Communication is incredibly different now. Teens can text each other fervently but won’t utter a word to each other in real life. We have dating sites where you can see tons of people you would’ve never met in real life, and with a simple swipe you can reject or propose them. We never know what’s on the other side of the phone, it’s a constant guessing game and play on emotions.
While it tries to say a lot about iPhone and Facebook culture, it doesn’t always hit the mark and overblows the negative effects. At times it can feel like scattered White People Problems scenes that are never solved. But there are few telling moments that make us eager to see these snapshots of their lives, behind the happy photos and Instagram filter that we so often hide behind.