Men, Women & Children

Still from Men, Women & Children

DIR: Jason Reitman • WRI: Jason Reitman, Erin Cressida Wilso • PRO: Jason Reitman, Helen Estabrook, Jason Blumenfeld, Michael Beugg, Mason Novick • DOP: Eric Steelberg • ED: Dana E. Glauberman • CAST: Adam Sander, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, Ansel Elgort, Kaitlyn Dever, Olivia Crocicchia, Emma Thompson

 

Men, Women & Children sees former wunderkind Jason Reitman return to a contemporary subject, after a baffling diversion into romantic melodrama with last year’s Labour Day. Unfortunately, Men, Women & Children is a far cry from Reitman’s masterpiece, 2011’s thrillingly tart Charlize Theron vehicle, Young Adult. Like Reitman’s other more successful features, Juno (2007) and Up in the Air (2009), Young Adult was a character study with a fairly narrow focus. Men, Women & Children, by contrast, is a multi-stranded portmanteau piece, in the vein of Paul Haggis’s Crash (2004) or Alejandro Gonzáles Inárritu’s Babel (2006). Although ostensibly lighter in tone than either of those films, Men, Women & Children dutifully replicates their central oxymoron – attempting to vindicate the diversity of human interaction by reducing it to a schematic.

 

Orbiting around the idea of how technology facilitates the increasing isolation of the very people it claims to connect, Men, Women & Children hones in on a selection of suburbanites in present day Texas, including a jaded married couple played by Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt, a pair of disaffected teenagers played by Ansel Elgort and Kaitlyn Dever, and two contrasting mothers, one of whom (Jennifer Garner) tirelessly monitors and restricts her daughter’s internet and phone use, while the other (Judy Greer) prostitutes her nubile daughter’s image on a subscription website. A trite framing device, in which the travails of these people are cross-cut with the progress of the Voyager satellite through space, seems to suggest that their interactions are emblematic of present day human society in general. In so doing, the film sets out to debunk the myth of the “global village”, while unselfconsciously perpetuating the false notion that new-technology communications are a genuinely global phenomenon. Emma Thompson’s narration, which sets descriptions of space exploration alongside observations of the masturbatory habits of middle-aged Texan fathers, underscores the point, although the self-satisfied smirk with which it is delivered doesn’t make the medicine go down any easier.

 

The film suffers from the curious problem of feeling didactic about nothing in particular. Many critics have read it as alarmist or hectoring, although that doesn’t seem to be quite accurate. Instead, Men, Women & Children attempts to cultivate a kind of studied neutrality, presenting its “findings” without explicit comment – at least until the very end, which wraps things up in a sentimental bow. The problem with this approach is that not one of the film’s observations is new, and its technique – in which artificial suspense is created by cross-cutting multiple story arcs in an attempt to disguise that each one is predictable as a metronome – undermines the quality of its performances. Sandler and DeWitt, particularly, are very good, given how little they have to work with; Judy Greer, likewise, makes something uncomfortably credible of a part that could easily have slid into caricature.

 

It’s a shame, however, that Reitman is more concerned with a banal thesis based on flattening the differences between people, than with the kind of drama that emerges from their complexity. Substituting characters for specimens, Men, Women & Children is as reductive as the new media it examines. There’s a certain grim irony, then, in the inevitable social media marketing campaign, which invited people to distil their inner thoughts to 135 characters and tag them with “#mwc”. Judging by the film’s disastrous performance at the U.S. box office, it seems not many people were interested. Perhaps they pre-emptively took Reitman’s message to heart, put down their smart-phones, and talked to each other instead – presumably about a film that had something more interesting to say.

 

David Turpin

16 See IFCO for details)
119 minutes.
Men, Women & Children is released 5th December.

Men, Women & Children – Official Website

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Say When

say when

DIR: Lynn Shelton • WRI: Andrea Seigel • PRO: Kevin Scott Frakes, Steve Golin, Alix Madigan, Myles Nestel, Raj Brinder Singh, Rosalie Swedlin • DOP: Benjamin Kasulke • ED: Nat Sanders • DES: John Lavin • MUS: Benjamin Gibbard • CAST: Keira Knightley, Chloë Grace Moretz, Sam Rockwell, Kaitlyn Dever, Jeff Garlin, Ellie Kemper

Growing up is not an easy thing to accept, particularly when all those around you are blazing a trail in their lives and you seem to be looked upon as the unproductive one. This is the main focus of Lynn Shelton’s ninth feature film, as Megan (Keira Knightley) finds herself 28 going on 16. The film is interesting in that it is female-centred in a predominantly male-dominated genre (much like Bridesmaids from 2011).

The film follows Megan, a woman in her late twenties who has simply drifted through life, having all decisions made for her. This is thanks in no small part to the pampering she receives from her father (Jeff Garlin), who still employs her as a sign-holder. One of Megan’s friends is getting married and, while all her other friends have started families and got good jobs, Megan is still more than happy to continue living an uneventful life, and is still with her lovable but dim high school boyfriend Anthony (Mark Webber). However, when he proposes, and she finds her father cheating, Megan’s world is rocked. Her safe haven of a world has been threatened, and she leaves.

In an attempt to recapture her adolescence, she buys alcohol for a group of teenagers, and becomes particularly close with the group’s leader, Annika (Moretz). Telling her boyfriend that she is attending a week-long, self-improvement seminar course, Megan stays in Annika’s to try to come to terms with the fact her fun-fuelled young days are over.

Shelton’s film is solid overall, particularly in the first half. Megan’s conundrum is something everyone can relate to at some point in their lives as the shackles of our ideal younger world are threatened by the looming presence of adulthood. What is undoubtedly the film’s strongest point is the outstanding acting performances by all the cast, particularly Knightley and Moretz. Considering the high-calibre films Knightley has featured in over the past decade, it is amazing how comfortable Moretz is alongside her on-screen, and she gives a truly compelling performance as the younger embodiment of Megan’s personality.

Knightley’s performance is also one of assured quality. She is remarkably suited to the role, and really lets the audience connect with the character. Even when Annika and her friends ask her to buy them alcohol, Megan is unsure as she isn’t comfortable being the older person, rather wanting to be the person having the alcohol bought for them. Another interesting scene is where she pretends to be Annika’s mother (who has left her father) at a teacher meeting and when Annika is being questioned about her ‘plan’, Megan realises she is no better than her.

Unfortunately, the film slightly falls apart in the latter half. Annika’s father (Sam Rockwell) seems unusually comfortable with having a complete stranger over ten years older than his daughter sleeping in her room. The film, while being intelligent in its opening, falls into typical clichés in its second half, and its ending can be predicted a good half an hour before the final credits roll. What promised to be an interesting premise was not built upon, and one really wonders if Megan’s decision at the end has really made her grow up, or will she now just fall back into a comfortable state of affairs again? It makes the viewer feel slightly cheated, but the film is worth it for the acting displays on show.

Alan Shalvey

15A (See IFCO for details)

99 minutes

Say When is released 7th November 2014
Say When – Official Website

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