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.

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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

The Descendants – LFF Review

Alexander Payne returns seven years after Sideways with an adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel starring George Clooney as Matt King, a man with too much on his plate. Matt is in charge of choosing a buyer for a large area of ancestral land in Hawaii, a sale which will benefit his extended family financially while harming the unspoiled land. He is also dealing with a wife in a coma she will never wake from and two unruly daughters he hasn’t been alone with for seven years. When his oldest daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley) reveals that his wife was having an affair Matt decides to hunt down her lover Brian before she dies.

If this all sounds a bit too much to take in, you know how I felt in the first twenty minutes; the situation with the ancestral land confused me and seemed completely irrelevant. Luckily it all tied together in the end and I almost understand what was going on now.

The story at the core of the film is the rebuilding of the relationship between Matt and Alex as they hunt down Brian. The one thing that unites this estranged pair is their hatred of Brian and the feeling of betrayal and anger towards their comatose mother/wife. Clooney is on fine form in the less than suave role, much better playing an oaf than trying to be cool like in last year’s The American, and Shailene Woodley certainly makes an impression as his bold daughter. Let’s put Woodley down for official one-to-watch status.

Payne is the master at making quality comedy dramas and hasn’t lost the knack since his last feature, after the muddle at the start and a few awkward metaphors The Descendants comes together as a touching and hilarious family dramedy.

Special mentions: Nick Krause for bringing heart and humour to a potentially bland role. Rob Huebel, from the amazing Childrens Hospital, for taking the smallest role and squeezing every last laugh from his few line. Beau Bridges for sporting the style made popular by his brother in The Big Lebowski. And finally, Jameson for not just sponsoring the London Film Festival but for getting their product into the film in full view.

The Descendants screens at the London Film Festival on the 23rd and 24th October 2011 and is in UK cinemas on 27th January 2012.