DVD Review - Men, Women & Children

With Emma Thompson as the narrator, this film has a strange, comedic vibe not that dissimilar from Stranger Than Fiction (2006), which is a good thing here. With a white woman having an affair with a black man, mixed with other parental issues, this film has an odd, dramatic vibe not that dissimilar from Mother and Child (2010), which is not a good thing here. It's not a good thing because this film doesn't possess the level of acting or the level of writing to support the kind of performances needed to be as impressive. Director and co-writer Jason Reitman leans heavily on the younger cast whom doesn't get the best material to ferret out these conflicts with the Internet that Reitman is attacking.

Mother and Child had a huge cast but each person was more distinctive and purposeful. Not every character here is that. Reitman devoting time to them only wastes time and dilutes whatever message Reitman was trying to convey. Basically, the cast is too large. Essentially, the film juggles four families. There's also some time dedicated to a fifth but just barely. Therefore, the narrative toggles back-and-forth between five teenagers and their interweaving lives, as well as the lives of the parents of four of them.

Adam Sandler stars as Don, the parent of the first teenager who's introduced. Don is married to Helen, played by Rosemarie DeWitt. They have two sons. The eldest is Chris, played by Travis Tope. Don and Chris don't talk to each other, but the two do share a love of online pornography. There are two problems occurring here. One is with Don and Helen's marriage and the other is with Chris' sexual proclivity. Ironically, the Internet is making Chris' proclivity worse, while it's the potential solution for Don and Helen's problem.

Unfortunately, the potential solution isn't really explored at all. That solution is the web site AshleyMadison.com, which is a real web site. It's ostensibly a dating web site, but it's controversial in that it's tailored for extramarital affairs. The ethics of that or the controversy of that is not even mentioned. In fact, if you didn't know what AshleyMadison is, its use here is meaningless. The reason the two are having affairs is rather cliche. It builds to a climax of apathy, which stands in stark contrast to the other story threads.

Their teenage son Chris is supposedly so affected by hardcore and possibly S&M porn that normal intercourse is not arousing enough to allow him to perform with an actual girl. Reitman is never brave enough to show us this kind of porn. Aside for one scene, Chris' impotence isn't given enough due. It needed more than one scene. Again, the cast is too large. With Reitman juggling so many characters, he loses this one.

Jennifer Garner co-stars as Patricia, the mother of the first teenage girl introduced who is perhaps paranoid to ridiculous degrees. She monitors and tracks her daughter on a level that is baffling. The Internet has its dangers, but her behavior seems so crazed that it feels like it sprang from a specific incident. She also seems to have such distrust for her daughter that it too feels like it sprang from a specific incident involving her daughter, yet this isn't ever explained.

Kaitlyn Dever plays Brandy, the daughter of Patricia. She starts to date Tim, played by Ansel Elgort. They date in secret and again there's no explanation. There's no clear argument as to why Brandy hides it from her mom when they have such an open relationship. Tim is a former football star in this Texas high school. His quitting football is the result of an existential crisis, which gets a lot of attention but mostly superficial attention. It pays lip-service to Carl Sagan but makes no connection to the obvious atheist undertones. Tim develops an obsession with online gaming but that's only given lip service too.

Dean Norris plays Kent, the father of Tim who starts to date Donna, played by Judy Greer. Donna is mother to Hannah, played by Olivia Crocicchia. Hannah is dating Chris. While Kent is trying to get his son Tim off the computer, Donna is pushing her daughter Hannah basically to sell herself on the computer in possibly prurient ways. Donna and Hannah chase celebrity, which leads to a great scene where the two hit a brick wall, as a backlash to their Internet life does smack them, particularly Donna hard. It's very well acted by Greer.

In general, all the actors do give good performances. It's the writing and directing that fails them. It's too much going on here. I haven't even mentioned the fifth teenager Allison, played by Elena Kampouris. She has an eating disorder and a desire to lose her virginity. Her whole storyline could have been dropped, along with one or two more, so that more focus could have been given to the stronger ones.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for sexual content and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 59 mins.


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