I love preview screenings. Especially for a film that will be at the Mill Valley Film Festival for Opening Night when those of us who work don’t usually get in to see the films!
Jason Reitman’s new movie, Men Women & Children is an alarmist’s view of how technology is damaging all of our interpersonal relationships. There are some stand-out performances by the teenagers in the cast, particularly Ansel Elgort and Kaitlyn Dever as our central pair of technology-crossed lovers. But I found the casting to be a problem. Emma Thompson is one of my favorite actors but in this film, we only get to hear her voice. Adam Sandler and Jennifer Garner are cast against type, and although it’s nice to see actors seeking challenges, the film suffers. The characters would have been better served had they been portrayed by actor’s with less star power and the weight of audience expectation.
The film goes back and forth trying to show today’s world as inconsequential in the grand scheme of the universe at large. It does so, ponderously, with lovely shots of planets and a tale of the Voyager satellite and a Carl Sagan quote. The focus is on the relationships of three families and how technology is driving them apart (gaming, online porn, looking at a phone or through a camera instead of being present) and how important small moments of engagement can be. Earth is a tiny dot but our connections to one another create our world.
It’s an important message–but the characters behave in ways that stretch credibility. Men Women & Children posits that teens are vulnerable and they make poor choices, but that parents act just as irresponsibly. We’re all struggling to find ways to connect, to be intimate and to protect our families. The orchestrated child-in-peril plot is used for optimal dramatic impact but the hyperbole is justified if Men Women & Children gets conversations started between parents and teens!
Update: I did get to hear the Q & A for this film at MVFF!
Jason Reitman was like a hip teenager teasing Kaitlyn Dever in the lobby by imitating what she’d sound like if she was in a video game. They had a fun rapport and she later joked that she had to teach him what Snapchat was all about. “This film is about intimacy, not about the internet” and “I had no idea there were websites to teach you how to be anorexic!” were among the director’s funny comments. It was also interesting to hear about all the work (and expense!) that went into creating the fake porn sites and clickable faux internet for the characters to surf. We also learned of the extended masturbation scene that was cut so as to not encourage teen boys to try putting whip cream inside a football and warm it in a microwave… There were some grumbles from the exiting festival crowd about the predictability of the dramatic ending and a few people seemed to agree with me with the miscasting (particularly Adam Sandler) but overall, they seemed to have a lot to talk about. And that’s what good films do…create conversations!
Some good tips on Teens and Social Media from Dave Taylor featured on Christian Toto’s Blog
Rating: 3 Jameson on the rocks, ordered from a hotel bar where your spouse may be cheating on you
Bechdel test: Passes, and hip hip hooray for the rock in the window at the end!