Men, Women & Children – LFF Review

Men, Women & Children

Jason Reitman’s directorial career was going so well. His first four films from Thank You for Smoking to Young Adult were each remarkable in their own way and it seemed that he could not put a foot wrong. And then he did. Earlier this year saw the release of Labor Day; an out of character romantic drama that showed Reitman trying something a little different and failing in the process. This year he returned to the London Film Festival with a new contemporary family drama Men, Women & Children. The question this film had to answer was, has Jason Reitman got his groove back?

In Men, Women & Children men, women, and children (I’m for the Oxford comma) find their personal relationships sabotaged by an over reliance on technology. Jennifer Garner* is a neurotic mother who monitors her daughter’s every move online, even going so far as to delete messages before they reach her. Her daughter Kaitlyn Dever feels oppressed and uses a secret Tumblr account as her only outlet while starting a sweet offline romance with Ansel Elgort. Ansel has abandoned the school football team in favour of playing online computer games after his mother abandoned him and his dad, Dean Norris, and became more a Facebook friend than a parent. When not worrying about his son Dean is flirting with Judy Greer who manages a questionable modelling website for her celebrity-in-waiting daughter, Olivia Crocicchia. Olivia meanwhile is sexting high school jock Travis Tope who is struggling to find real sex appealing having become addicted to a particular strand of porn. Travis’ parents Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt are failing to connect and so are contemplating exploring online escorts and extramarital affair sites respectively. If that weren’t nearly enough we also have Elena Kampouris who visits thinspiration websites and suffers from anorexia and low self-esteem but she doesn’t fit as neatly into the chain of relationships as everyone else.

Men, Women & Children 2

As you can tell from the above there is a lot going on in Men, Women & Children and every storyline involves someone’s life being worse off thanks to the internet. An ensemble drama can work but only when dealt with carefully. In this case the fact that a small group of interlinked individuals are all experiencing some form of cyber woe makes the whole exercise feel inauthentic and implausible. Now might well be the prime time for a film exploring the internet’s effects on human relationships but this heavy-handed attempt at highlighting the possible dangers online is not that film. Jason Reitman wants you to reflect on how you are damaging your own relationships and he will beat you round the head with an iPad until you do. Few films are this preachy and condescending which, having now sat through this public service announcement of a film, is a great relief.

There are moments of charm and humour but they are lost in amongst the endless scenes of characters making bad choices because their modems made them do it. Men, Women & Children is not about the real world or real people. It is Reefer Madness for the internet age and is every bit as overblown and undercooked. In an attempt to add levity to proceedings Reitman has added narration courtesy of Emma Thompson in the hopes that her accent describing sex acts will be enough to soften the rough edges of this melodramatic catastrophe. Sadly even Thompson’s authoritative voice can’t distract from the mess Reitman has made.

No character is given enough screen time to become fully rounded and nearly everyone involved at some point does something so utterly stupid and unrelatable that the audience is left floundering looking for someone to relate to. The minute you think you have found your cypher to guide you through Men, Women & Children they will do something unforgivable or seemingly without motive. The film is unlikely to stop anyone from going online but may well turn people away from going to the cinema again.

Men, Women & Children is misogynist, paranoid, and pretentious. Jason Reitman can do so much better.

*There are too many characters for me to have remembered any names.

Men, Women & Children has a UK release date of 28th November 2014.

BFI LFF 2014

Saving Mr. Banks – LFF Film Review

SAVING MR. BANKS

Mary Poppins is a special film for me; it is one of those childhood films that I have watched countless times and so holds a special place in my film-loving heart. Because of this a film about the creation of the classic musical is not going to have to try very hard to win me over. That said I wasn’t expecting Saving Mr. Banks to get to me so much that I’d have to start keeping a tally of just how many times I had cried. From the opening moments when a piano played the film’s overture to the closing credits I was a mess.

Saving Mr. Banks covers the period in Disney’s development of Mary Poppins when the original novel’s author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) reluctantly travelled to Disney studios to work on the script and decide whether or not she would finally be willing to relinquish the rights. Travers did not want any singing or animation in the film and generally disapproved of any attempt to Disney-fy her book so screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and songwriters the Sherman brothers (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) were given a hard time by a woman who was not afraid to speak her mind. Walt Disney himself (Tom Hanks) was heavily involved in the project as if he couldn’t get Travers to sell him the film right he would be breaking a promise he made to his daughter decades earlier.

Alongside the story of the making of the film we see flashbacks to Travers’ childhood and meet the inspiration for Mr Banks, her father Robert Goff Travers (Colin Farrell) and for Mary Poppins herself (Rachel Griffiths). While the scenes at Disney are mostly fun and played for laughs, as Travers’ British bulldog nature comes to clashes with the cheery American sensibility of Disney and friends, the childhood scenes gradually turn from lighthearted antics to an all more serious nature. By the end of the films things have all gone a little bit tragic as we see the real reason Travers wrote the book and why she is so defensive about any changes Disney wants to make.

This being a Disney film about Disney they obviously don’t come out too badly but they are brave enough to poke a little fun at themselves and their overly cheery nature. In one scene Travers says to a stuffed Winnie the Pooh bear “Poor A. A. Milne” which shows they aren’t censoring the real writer’s disdain for Disney adaptations. As for the cast, everyone is firing on all cylinders as Emma Thompson once more manages to break the whole audience’s heart simultaneously with a single subtle look, and even Colin Farrell pulls of both comedy and pathos convincingly. Worth noting that Paul Giamatti rounds out the cast as Travers’ chauffeur who slowly wins her over with his sunny charm.

The combination of the dramatic childhood scenes, the heartwarming period at Disney, and my own personal connection to the original film of Mary Poppins proved to be a little too much for me to handle. At five separate occasions I found myself welling up in spite of myself and tears were frequently falling down my cheeks. In the scene when Let’s Go Fly A Kite is first performed all three elements combined together and left me an emotional wreck. I consider myself as someone who very rarely cries at films but that one scene had me weeping like never before in a cinema. I just hope none of the other critics saw.

Would this film be of any interest to someone who hasn’t seen Mary Poppins? Probably not but as someone who considers the film and integral part of their childhood it is a completely subjective masterpiece that hit me in just the right spot to have me making a spectacle of myself in public.

One star for every moment I got all weepy.

Saving Mr. Banks is in UK cinemas on 29th November 2013.

BFI London Film Festival 2013

Is Carey Mulligan a Fair Lady?

This all happened yesterday but I was a bit distracted. In an interview with the BBC Emma Thompson revealed that Carey Mulligan is set to play the lead role of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady.

While this is yet to be officially confirmed the adaptation was written my Thompson herself so she is likely to know the truth. The role was previously being fought over by both Keira Knightley and Scarlett Johansson, both of whom appear to have been beaten by the fresh new face. This is a sure sign of Mulligan’s new star power coming off her role in An Education in which Emma Thompson also appeared.

Fun though the Nanny McPhee films are for kids it’s nice to see Thompson returning to more adult films, the likes of which have won her awards in the past. More Mulligan isn’t a bad thing either, but can she sing?

Carey Mulligan is also rumoured to be in contention for the title role in the English language remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.