Men, Women & Children

Men, Women & Children

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“Men,
Women and Children” is a film that wants to make a grand and profound
statement about where we are as a society today: how modern
technology has affected human relationships by showing how the very tools
theoretically designed to bring people together has instead driven them further
into their own individual online worlds filled with hardcore pornography,
violent video games, potentially dangerous chat-mates and whatever that Tumblr
thing is. A potentially interesting premise is handled so
badly that what might have been a provocative drama quickly and
irrevocably devolves into the technological equivalent of the old anti-dope
chestnut “Reefer Madness,” squandering the efforts of a strong and talented cast struggling
mightily to make something of the ridiculously trite material.

Based on
the novel by Chad Kulgen, Reitman’s adaptation is set in a small Texas town, and follows a
group of high school students and their parents whose lives have been overrun
with high-tech gadgets and all the troubles they can inspire. Donny (Adam
Sandler) is an ordinary guy whose dissatisfaction with his marriage leads him first to straightforward internet pornography and later to an escort
service for a fling; little does he suspect that wife Helen (Rosemarie DeWitt)
is following a similar mental trajectory. Their son, Chris (Travis Trope),
has become so versed in pornography that direct human contact with a girl is no
longer enough to excite him—a condition that reaches a head, so to speak, when
sexpot cheerleader Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia) makes a play for him. Hannah, by
the way, is an aspiring starlet who has a website filled with provocative
photos for her “fans,” and if you are curious as to where her mother
is, it turns out than Mom (Judy Greer) runs the site and takes the photos in
the hopes of giving her daughter the Hollywood career that was denied her years
earlier.

Mom, by
the way, is beginning to see Kent (Dean Norris), who is still reeling from his
wife’s recent abandonment of him and his son, school football star Tim (Ansel
Elgort). As a result of his mother’s absence, Tim has developed an existential
funk that leads him to quit the team and start spending his time playing video
games and pursuing the school’s requisite quirky outsider girl—you can tell
because she reads actual books—Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever). Brandy, alas, is living
under the yoke of her wildly overprotective mother, Patricia (Jennifer Garner),
who not only monitors her every online move right down to the number of
keystrokes but leads a neighborhood discussion group dedicated to warning about
the hidden dangers of being online. (“I want to give you a pamphlet about
the dangers of selfies.
“)

Finally, there is Allison (Elena Kampouris), a
young girl whose desire to be thin has driven her to an eating disorder and a
website where other anorexics offer inspiration as she starves herself. All of
this activity is being monitored by an unseen narrator (Emma Thompson), who
muses about the frivolity of our behavior while Voyager hurtles through space
with its records showing mankind at his best.

In
theory, “Men, Women and Children” sounds like it has all the makings
of a promising drama about contemporary mores in our social media-saturated
culture, but, in practice, it fumbles the ball in virtually every department. All
of the various interconnecting stories are shallowly conceived morality plays
in which the characters are forced to march their way towards potentially
tragic denouements that can be seen coming a mile away and all appear to have
been taken directly from a guidebook highlighting the perils of the Internet
penned in 1999. At one point, Patricia is mocked for relating an urban legend
about the perils of extended online usage, but the film more often than not
seems to be sharing her hysterical perspective on the subject.

Nearly all the characters are unlikable, which
is not necessarily a problem, and uninteresting, which is. Therefore, it
becomes difficult to care about what happens to the vast majority of them. There
is also a smugness to the proceedings that is difficult to get behind,
especially in Thompson’s incredibly arch and largely unnecessary narration. And
in a desperate attempt to generate some kind of sympathy from viewers without
actually earning it, the screenplay even shoehorns in such things as 9/11 and
Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” to try to move people.

While the
characters on the screen desperately fumble for the answers to their
technological anomie, people in the audience will instead be desperately fumbling
for the answer to the question of what is going on with the career of
co-writer/director Jason Reitman. Over the course of his first four
films—”Thank You for Smoking,” “Juno,” “Up in the
Air” and “Young Adult,” quite possibly one of the best American
films of recent years that you have not yet seen—Reitman proved himself to be
both an acerbic social satirist of the highest order and an unusually empathic
storyteller. He did stumble last year with “Labor Day,” the mawkish
melodrama that saw him abandoning the altar of Billy Wilder to attempt to make
a modern-day version of a Douglas Sirk weepie, but even though that one didn’t
work, it was more boring that awful (save for its instant camp classic
pie-making sequence) and could be written off as a noble but dumb attempt by
Reitman to expand his artistic palette.

Although “Men, Women and Children”
would seem to offer opportunities for slashing satire, Reitman and co-writer
Erin Cressida Wilson appear to have taking several pages from the Stanley Kramer
playbook, delivering a film that all but flashes signs warning viewers of
impending moral messages. For example, there is a scene in which the starlet’s mom gets bad
news regarding her daughter’s website while shopping at the butcher’s area of
the grocery store—just to make sure everyone gets the point, the scene ends on
a giant sign that reads “MEAT.” 

What is
really frustrating about “Men, Women and Children” is that there are
actually some good performances here from actors trying to bring this gibberish
to life. On the grown-up side of things, Adam Sandler is effective in a
straight dramatic part and once again suggests that he has the makings of a
fine dramatic actor when he stops making glorified home movies with his buddies
and genuinely applies himself. As the key young couple, Kaitlyn Dever, who was
so good in “Short Term 12,” and Ansel Elgort make the most of what they have been given to
work with here, and Elena Kampouris is also affecting at times as the anorexic.

It is just too bad that the same thing that
has happened to so many young people traveling the information superhighway
over the years has happened to these young actors—they put their trust and faith in someone
who seemed to have their best intentions at heart, did some embarrassing things
in front of cameras (though not as embarrassing as the things done behind them),
and now they will have to live with the results of their decisions for the rest
of their lives, no matter how many times they try to scrub their IMDB
filmographies.

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Sideways (2004)

Sideways (2004)

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Genre: Drama/Comedy/Romance

Starring: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh
When two friends in their forties decide to tour Santa Barbara and visit various vineyards and enjoy the wine. Miles (Giamatti) is an English teacher, aspiring writer who hasn’t been able to do anything big, divorced, hasn’t been able to get over his ex-wife, depressed and a wine aficionado. Jack (Church) is a small-time actor whose career boasts of a supporting role in a TV soap and is now voice-over artists who is about to get married. Miles is an introvert who wants to spend the trip tasting wine, driving around, playing golf and relaxing. Jack, on the other hand, is more interested in having one last sexual fling before he gets married and this constantly leads to disagreements between the two friends on what they should be doing. Maya (Madsen) is a waitress in a popular restaurant that Miles frequents, and after being pushed by Jack, is forced to make a move on her. Jack, meanwhile, gets associated with Stephanie (Oh) who works at a winery and the duo have a healthy sexual encounter. The movie brings out the relationship between the two friends, their differences, similarities, disagreements and agreements. They fight and hate each other but yet stand by each other during tough times. The movie is not for everyone and comprises of subtle urban humour and takes it’s own pace in moving onwards. The performances are splendid and the movie has won many accolades at various awards functions due to this. A decent one-time watch movie provided you can live with the slow plot.
Thumbs up: Fabulous performances
Thumbs down: A bit slow to move on
Rating: 7.1/10

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ENIGMA (EQUINOX, 2001) ****

ENIGMA (EQUINOX, 2001) ****

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BY RICK JACKSON

Directed by Michael Apted, Enigma is a top notch thriller starring Dougray Scott as Thomas Jericho who returns to Bletchley Park. He plays him as a vulnerable codebreaker whose expertise is called upon in a pinch when the current team of has discovered they can’t break the code to find the whereabouts of the German U-Boats that are destroying allied cargo ships. Not until the end are you convinced this is a work of historical importance.

In a pre-credit opening sequence you are introduced to Claire the central focus of what is about to be revealed. Saffron Burrows plays her with the requisite innocence as Jericho’s lover in a past relationship until she is exposed as a possible spy which, in turn, leads the police in finding her. It is all part of the maddening puzzle which you find yourself absorbed in as much as Jericho in his flashback episodes when he remembers certain details which may or may not make her innocent.

Based on the novel by Robert Harris, the literate screenplay by Tom Stoppard ties in the personal life
of one of the codebreakers and adds a subplot where there is the possibility of a spy at Bletchley Park,  headquarters for the British codebreaking operation against Nazi Germany.

This is not your average spy film of yesteryear like The Spy In Black (1939), Night Train To Munich and Foreign Correspondent (both 1940) where the Germans have an obvious spy for the allies to capture. Inside the centre is a group of high ranking officers and codebreakers who face a daunting task and each of the characters plays an important role.

Kate Winslet (Titanic) and Jeremy Northam (Carrington) play Hester Wallace and Wigram respectively. Their appearances inject the film with the right suspense to make it better than expected.

Winslet’s quiet personality speaks volumes for what is not said and her actions imply a response where you are watching her to see what happens next. Her sense of responsibility to Claire is evident from the start. The director follows her with an omnipresent eye that creates a sense of mystery.

John Barry, in one of his last film scores, creates an atmosphere mixed with trepidation, fear, and anxiety that suits the plot perfectly.

You will not be disappointed by Apted’s latest and it demands your undivided attention right from thee beginning.

It is rated PG, with the warning: not recommended for children.

July 26, 2002
Copyright Rick Jackson 2002

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