Rob Edelman: Jason Reitman’s Men, Women, Children
Does Jason Reitman have another JUNO in him? Or will his present and future films mostly be instantly forgettable, despite the A-list casts he attracts? A case in point is LABOR DAY, which was screened a year ago at the Toronto Film Festival. Despite the presence of a top-billed Kate Winslet, LABOR DAY was a lackluster effort: a tale with a highly questionable scenario that not surprisingly was a box office dud.
There is nothing dubious about the scenario in Reitman’s newest film, MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN, which played this year in Toronto. Granted, its subject is far from original: the impact that the Internet is having on our lives, and how it is separating people from intimacy. But it deals with an issue that is impacting all of us, on countless levels, and it does so with intelligence and perception.
MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN features a range of men, women, and children who reside in a suburban Texas community that might be Anywhere, USA. Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt play an otherwise average married couple whose relationship is devoid of passion. So at the outset, there is Sandler’s character searching the Internet for porn. This begs a question: We are awash in the wonders of technology, but how are we using that technology? Does it simply allow us easier access to pornography? Furthermore, how long will it take for Sandler’s character to seek a sexual tryst via the web?
But men are not the only cheaters in relationships: How long will it take for the DeWitt character, who yearns to be “desired,” to seek a sexual partner of her own? At one point, we are made privy to an ad for a service that lures potential customers by telling them that “Life Is Short. Have An Affair.” A parallel here is all the present-day marketing strategies that tell us: You may have massive credit card debt, but you are not to blame. You deserve to have that new car, or whatever. So come on down, and we will get you that new car, or whatever.
Whatever happened to the responsibility that should come with managing one’s finances?
The other characters in MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN include a mother-- a failed celeb played by Judy Greer in a Best Supporting Actress-calibre performance-- who yearns for her pretty daughter to become rich and famous. So she snaps sexy, suggestive photos of her offspring, which are posted on the web site she manages.
Then there is the high school football star who has lost interest in sports and has quit the team. Yet he is pressured by a school administrator to rejoin the team. The young man’s beliefs, desires, and very serious family issues mean nothing. All that counts to the administrator is the thrill of victory on the gridiron. He even promises to ask the young man’s teachers to “ease up on the homework.” This offer begs a question: How is the educational process being compromised in a culture that stresses winning football games over learning?
Then there is the moralizing mother, played by Jennifer Garner, who sees the Internet as the epitome of evil and closely tracks all her daughter’s web activities. The mother is failing to acknowledge that the child is a perfectly nice person: an intelligent and responsible young woman, rather than a catastrophe waiting to happen.
A host of other characters and issues populate MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN. A girl explains why she would willingly post images of her sexual trysts on the web. Another girl refuses to eat and is on the fast lane to anorexia while a boy, who is all of fifteen, is hopelessly addicted to online porn. In one of the more disturbing sequences, a teacher discusses 9/11 and wants the students to pen essays on how that day changed our lives. But to the kids, this is boring. This is ancient history.
MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN may be predictable, but it does offer caustic commentary on our current culture. It is a film that should be seen and debated.
Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.
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