Some films, no matter how well intentioned, miss the mark on so many levels. They’re meant to have a purpose beyond just being entertaining, but never fully get there as even the simple and expected elements don’t actually exist.
The Paramount Pictures film “Men, Women & Children”, tackles a tiresome message, but unfortunately doesn’t provide anything new for the audience to think on, let a lone an interesting story.
This drama film stars Rosemarie DeWitt (“Kill the Messenger”, “Olive Kitteridge”), Ansel Elgort (“The Fault in Our Stars”, “Divergent”), Kaitlyn Dever (“Last Man Standing”, “Laggies”), Jennifer Garner (“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”, “Draft Day”), Judy Greer (“Archer”, “Married”), Dean Norris (“Under the Dome”, “Small Time”), Adam Sandler (“Blended”, “Grown Ups 2”), and Emma Thompson (upcoming “Effie Gray”, “Saving Mr. Banks”).
The film is directed by Jason Reitman (“Labor Day”, “Young Adult”) and written by Reitman (“Labor Day”, “Up in the Air”) and Erin Cressida Wilson (“Call Me Crazy: A Five Film”, “Chloe”). It is based on the novel of the same name by Chad Kultgen.
The film opened at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 6, 2014 and then received a limited run on Oct. 1. It finally opened in wide release (please) on Oct. 17.
I couldn’t choose anything else. I was merely standing at the Redbox and nothing was jumping out at me. Time was not on my side. So, “Men, Women & Children” it was! The worst part, more than knowing it ended up on many worst of 2014 lists, was that I hadn’t read the book. Normally I can look past this, but not this time. Here, I truly wish I had read the book. A different kind of understanding of what the purpose of this film was, could’ve come about. No, instead, I witnessed something I should’ve known better than to watch. Even if I had read the book, I wouldn’t have had an enjoyable experience.
This film didn’t achieve any of it’s goals. It’s main aim is clear. There’s no arguing that. It’s a story, more or less, about technology and how it’s changed people’s relationships with one another. And oddly enough, for me at least, it’s not the unoriginal and annoying overall story that makes this film bad, it’s the contents that spoils the fun that should’ve been had.
The film, which shouldn’t be of too much surprise, is overly preachy. This notion really dawned on me at the 37 minute mark, but by then, it was too late. Somehow this film managed to bypass anything resembling satire and didn’t even aim for melodrama, let a lone have anything to even elevate the simple forms of drama needed. The film pretty much aimed to be taken seriously, which, come on, it could never be. This is also where I discovered that I regretted not having read the book. I couldn’t get a clear idea as to the overall purpose this film was meant to serve. I don’t see this as being as simple as it comes off, which is to say that it’s merely a bunch of cautionary tales all woven together about technology and relationships. No, this mishandled film is something that Lifetime would give you, and by that standard, Lifetime would’ve done better. Certainly by providing an unintentionally funny film. This was listed as a comedy-drama, but for some reason, lacked any humor. Dark humor would’ve been welcomed.
The characters are you’re next biggest problem, especially when the film boasts so many, as well as a list of well known actors. With so many characters, the interweaving of plots was a crucial component of the film, which was oddly successful. That, however, means little when the character representations are uninteresting. Each one basically represents a scenario that, no doubt, has gone through our heads at one point or another. You’ve got; overprotective parent, eating disorder girl, porn addict(s), general social media usage, Ashley Madison and escort services, and modeling sites (practically child porn in this case). A lot to contend with, which may be the reason this film failed so miserably.
A few of the characters and their representations:
Garner’s character, the overprotective mother, was a bit too on target, maybe a bit over. She was incredibly annoying, and tried to force her overprotectiveness onto others. Every little thing was a danger to children. At one point you have Greer’s and Norris’ characters commenting on how she’s too extreme with all this safety. It was a nice bright spot in an otherwise uneventful film. I feel that the problem isn’t that I had the appropriate response, in that I wanted to smack her and tell her to stop being obsessive, but that she was just overbearing. I’m sorry, I really can’t figure out how to explain this, other than by feeling that her representation is a bit of an overkill, even if there are people that do behave like this.
There’s also Greer’s completely clueless mother. Somehow, and this I’ll never understand, in her quest to get her daughter noticed as a model or an actress, she completely disregards the idea that what she’s doing, is tantamount to trafficking child porn. She wants her kid to be a model and sets up a web page to showcase her daughter’s different looks, but it’s not your basic Kmart catalogue like pictures. No, she’s gone so far as to put up close to half naked pictures of her kid. They’re not exactly what you’d think of, especially if you’ve watched any episode of “Law & Order: SVU”, but given that she’s knowingly taking these kinds of photos for paying customers, and putting them in a special area, is what makes it problematic. I get the mother wanting this show biz life, as we’ve seen time and again, mothers and fathers wanting this for their kid, but I can’t buy her stupidity. It’s too naïve, and in this day and age, or whenever the film takes place, it’s hard not to know what’s right and wrong when it comes to photographs online. Even social media sites have standards that must be abided by. If not, you’re not going to be using them for long.
Then, just because, there’s my issue with Sandler. Regardless of who was playing this character, he’d not be one I’d suddenly care about or for. Mind you, it’s not because he’s an older married man that’s addicted to porn, I wish. No, it’s because he’s just gross looking and comes off really creepy. Did you see that beard and out of shape look he had? Maybe that’s the way the character is in the book, or simply the idea that an older married man, looking at porn, is supposed to be a creep or something worse. Also, it could just be Sandler. One thing I find funny about this is that it’s probably the first role of his that hasn’t made me want to gag. He’s so normal, compared to anything else he’s done. A relief.
While these representations of our worst fears manifest themselves in these characters, it’s actually really hard to give a damn. The characters are so bland. We see what they so clearly represent, not that that was a big mystery, but even so, they’re not portrayed all that interesting. Any of them. Some of them are are so obvious, that I predicted, although expected it much sooner, that Elgort’s character would do what he did! I rolled my eyes when I reached that part of the film. They seemed more like caricatures of the very people they’re meant to be. Because of the lifeless qualities these characters take on, the stories just seemed to unfold. There was nothing spectacular with the way they began, continued or ended. They just were. They needed to go from point A to point B, but not in any particularly interesting or moving way. I just wanted them to end. I was over them and the film.
It’s sad to say, but the only two that showed any promise or interest, were Elgort and Dever. These two, for the most part, were the only sane ones of every character in this film. A simple relationship growing in real life and through the use of technology. Sounds about right, and also sounds like one that’s benefitting from it. Of course, Dever’s character is put in some tough situations as her mother is Garner’s overprotective parent.
And, as if it weren’t bad enough that the characters infuriated me, there were a lot of the technical things done to the film to make it different. Unique? Whatever it was, they were annoying.
Reitman and Wilson decided that it would be a good idea to include narration. Why? As I was listening to it, it dawned on me quickly, not just how useless it was, but how it better fit the novel. I’m guessing on that. It just seemed more appropriate for a book. Then, there were the things that were being talked about in the narration that just seemed out of place. Don’t get me wrong, I like Thompson, but here she was absolutely unnecessary. At some point the narration completely stopped. I’m recalling that it did after giving the final bit of backstory on the characters, because we, as the audience, are too stupid figure out who these people are or why they do the things they do.
Then, just because it’s lost it’s wow, the need for on screen text and images of text to pop up on the screen. It doesn’t matter if it’s email, text messages, or websites being shown, it’s annoying. At times we had that and a clear, well established shot of the character looking at a screen of some sort. Overkill. I also blame this film, whether it’s fair or not, or true, for introducing this trend. You see it a lot now on TV shows aimed for young adults or teenagers. Before this film, I can’t recall anything else really utilizing this lazy way of telling us what the other person wrote. Was having a character read the text out loud too much now?
“But take your phone, honey. So I can track you.”
-Garner and Dever
One fine bit of dialogue in this film that meant well, but didn’t receive the message that what it was peddling came too late for anyone to care. If this idea hadn’t already been talked about so much in the media, through studies, and anything else, it would’ve been a fun film to witness. Witnessing a film that tackles the biggest hindrance or help, in some cases, of our time could easily have made us take a moment and think about what our lives looked like today. It sadly couldn’t do that. Nor could it provide anything memorable or entertaining. The only thing it brought was a bunch of cliché stories for characters you cared nothing for. It did, possibly bring some conversation, as in this piece for instance, but even that seems more muted than it should be. For this, I blame that we’ve heard all these examples before. Worst case scenarios that are neither shocking or original. I’m surprised this film didn’t find a way to squeeze in cyberbullying while it was on its noble crusade. It would certainly have been fitting since it’s been overly dramatized in film already.