Sean K. Cureton

Archive for August, 2016|Monthly archive page

Men, Women & Children: A Parable On the Digital Age

In Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week on August 27, 2016 at 10:54 am
Men, Women & Children

Paramount Pictures

Men, Women & Children (2014)
Directed by Jason Reitman
VOD Rating: Liked It

Based on the novel of the same name by Chad Kultgen, Men, Women & Children is a surprising social satire whose barbed critiques of social-sexual identity are acutely aimed. Directed by Jason Reitman, the film stars the likes of Adam Sander, Judy Greer, Jennifer Garner, and Dean Norris as the well seeming guardians of the millennial generation. Ansel Elgort, Kaitlyn Denver, Olivia Crocicchia, and Elena Kampouris round out the cast as the besieged upon adolescents whose use of social media and online porn becomes the source of demonstratively structured moral guidance. Kultgen has made his name for being a provocateur on the page of wildly sophomoric antics wherein the very worst facets of American life and living are exaggerated for comic effect. In adapting an easily misread book, Reitman’s cinematic satire revels in pockets of dramatic ambiguity further complicated by a number of subtle performances throughout.

Men, Women & Children, like Reitman’s other social satires such as his breakthrough comedy hit Juno from 2005 and its immediate Oscar nominated follow-up Up in the Air from 2009, is sentimentally heartfelt. Reitman approaches the potential problem of the digital age with a decided aesthetic flourish in keeping with kinds of superimposed cyber text and imagery made popular by Scott Pilgrim vs. the World in 2010. Seeing Ansel Elgort roam the halls of high school while streams of literalized data buzz around his head is as discomfiting a cinematic experience as the pangs of needing to answer each and every text massage actually is in real life. The digital age isn’t so much a monster in Reitman’s hands as it is a near indefinable chimera of social hysteria. It’s source and immediate ramifications are constantly changing and opaque, which lends some of the surrounding paranoia personified by Jennifer Garner in the film feel earned despite its inherent hyperbole.

As the head of a local task force of parents stereotypically afraid of anything they don’t understand on the Internet, Garner is perhaps the most potentially awkward facet of the film’s script. But what makes Garner sympathetic, or at the very least comical, comes in her absolute fear of the unknown that proves perennially applicable. It’s easy to make a mountain out of a molehill at a long distance, and Garner’s digital paranoia is likewise one of lacking the kind of fundamental familiarity with social media that her young daughter was born with. The need to protect one’s daughter from unwanted advances online is certainly nothing new when it comes to protective parents of teen girls, making Garner’s role in Men, Women & Children just another generational variation of the same narrative archetype. At once silly and misguided, Reitman makes it quickly apparent that Garner’s character should be seen as just one outcome of the larger digital revolution, and one that will dwindle as our cultural familiarity with various facets of social media increases with time.

There’s plenty to scoff at in the making of Reitman’s social satire, most notably including Adam Sandler and his dumpy wife’s brief flirtation with online polygamy; or Judy Greer’s willfully ill-advised facilitation of a soft-core porn site featuring her teenage daughter. Many of the social circumstances that arise throughout Men, Women & Children can appear far too broad to be believable at first, lending the entire production over to the realm of a made for TV after school special. But Reitman doesn’t act like a stern disciplinarian intent on reprimanding millennial transgressions online. Instead, Men, Women & Children seeks to find a human core in much of the misconstrued hi-jinks that occur throughout the entire production’s circuitous series of crimes and misdemeanors. The characters that populate the film’s script are all recognizable characters from real life whose individual errors are forgivable and familiar, making Reitman’s feature a heartwarming parable on the digital age.

Men, Women & Children is currently available on Amazon Prime, and is my Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week.