Thursday, October 16, 2014

Jason Reitman's Misguided And Meaningless MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN

Opening today at an indie art house near me…


(Dir. Jason Reitman, 2014)

Jason Reitman’s (JUNO, UP IN THE AIR, YOUNG ADULT) latest film, a comedy drama (hate the word “dramedy”) examination of relationships in the age of the internet based on a 2011 novel by Chad Kultgen, is easily his worst film. It’s even worse than LABOR DAY, and I hated LABOR DAY.

Just about every bit of it is misguided and poorly written, a pretentious attempt at cultural commentary that comes off like a guy complaining about everybody being addicted to screens and social media, but has nothing to say about it to say but ‘look at all these people on their devices, it’s awful.’ A rant by Bobby Moynihan’s SNL character Drunk Uncle is more profound than this.

It starts with voice-over narration by Emma Thompson telling us that while the Voyager satellite, which we see via CGI, is venturing through space carrying international music, pictures and greetings to extraterrestrial life, back on Earth, Adam Sandler is having trouble masturbating to internet porn.

Sandler, following the Robin Williams handbook by having grown a beard for this dramatic role, is an unhappily married family man who has to use his son’s computer because his computer is too infected with malware to use. Finding that his son has his own secret sex site fetish, Sandler reminiscences about how he discovered porn in his youth. Yeah, pretty creepy so far.

From there we head to the local high school (the film was shot in Austin, Texas) where we meet Kaitlyn Dever, whose mother (Jennifer Garner) obsessively monitors every instance of activity on her phone and PC, Elena Kampouris an anorexic high-school girl pining to be popular, Olivia Crocicchia, whose mother (Judy Greer) is always taking pictures and videos of in hopes of making her a star, and Ansel Elgort who gave up football for online gaming (in particular, the game “Guild Wars,” which I hadn’t heard of before).

Garner’s character is the film’s heavy, a cold, self righteous control freak who hosts an Internet Safety Parent group meeting in her home and deletes messages on her daughters account before she can see them.

While these threads weave in and out of each other, Sandler and his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt), both inspired by a commercial for that turns their heads away from their laptops in bed, begin affairs at exactly the same time, but luckily at different hotels. While Sandler hires a high price escort (Shane Lynch), DeWitt arranges a date with Dennis Haysbert, credited only as “Secretluvur.”

Meanwhile, Sandler’s son (Travis Tope) is itching to have sex with Crocicchia, who’s his partner on a class project about 9/11 (yep, they went there too), while a relationship blooms between Dever and Elgort, who’s dealing with learning (from a social networking site, of course) that his mother is remarrying. But that’s good news for Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris as Elgort’s father, who begins dating Greer. Reitman regular J.K. Simmons is also on hand as the anorexic girl's kindly father.

There’s a lot of internet meddling by parents – Greer decides that selling soft-core pictures of her daughter online isn’t such a good idea after it gets them rejected by a reality show, Norris cancels his credit card so Elgort can’t play “Guild Wars” anymore, and Garner freaks out when she finds the one site that Dever had secret (Tumblr), ransacks her room, and drives Elgort to suicide by intercepting his messages to Dever and telling him she’ll block him if he texts again.

It’s all so heavy handed and incredibly cringeworthy in its whole ‘internet bad’ statement, and overuse of bubbles for texts (or sexts), and blocks of chat cluttering up the screen. Yeah, I get that its point is that these things are cluttering up our lives, but with its flashy aesthetics and Voyager imagery, something seems off in its thematic ideal that too much technology is threatening our interactions with other people.

And Thompson’s narration so much recalls her writer role in STRANGER THAN FICTION, that I wanted the characters to yell to the heavens for her to shut up.

The film seems to oddly elaborate on a joke in Woody Allen’s 1977 Oscar winning classic ANNIE HALL in which a flashback has the 9-year old version of Allen’s character Alvy Singer explaining to his physician and mother that “The universe is everything, and if it’s expanding, someday it will break apart and that will be the end of everything.” His mother says that because of this, “He’s even stopped doing his homework,” to which the young Alvy replies “What's the point?”

Blending that cosmic comic comment on insignificance with Carl Sagan’s “Tiny Blue Dot,” which both Elgort and Thompson quote in the film, must’ve seemed like a poetic notion to Reitman, but his awful, drawn out, and uninspired execution here makes for an excruciating experience. Come back, Diablo Cody! Everything is forgiven. (YOUNG ADULT, which I was a bit mixed on initially is looking better and better every day).

In its wanting so desperately to be a movie of the moment, as well as an ensemble rom com, MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN is a dreadful mash-up of AMERICAN BEAUTY and CRAZY STUPID LOVE. It’s for sure, the most meaningless and hard to stomach 119 minutes I’ve spent in a theater this year. 

More later...

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