I knew absolutely nothing about “Men, Women & Children” when it showed up. And after watching it, I know even less. Why? Because it’s bad. Very bad. And it brings down a decent cast and director with its horrific quality.
The man behind the curtain here is Jason Reitman, who held the reins for films like “Juno” and “Up in the Air.” Those were solid. “Men, Women & Children” is not. The actors here are recognizable: Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Emma Thompson (narration) and Dennis Haysburt (probably most well-known for his recent work in the Allstate insurance commercials). They’ve all done good films before. “Men, Women & Children” is not one of them.
Is “Men, Women & Children” really that bad? Yes. It calls out stereotypes but tragically reinforces them. Its script is mundane and lofty to the point of eye rolling. Its inability to make its audience care at all for any of the characters it has to present on screen is fascinating. And when it is all said and done, it doesn’t really offer any new insight on the impact of social media in the lives of parents and their children. The film sets itself up to fail because it polarizes its characters from one another and selectively rather than collectively resurrects a few.
The stereotypical characters are all in place during “Men, Women & Children.” Don (Sandler) and his wife Helen (Rosemarie DeWitt) aren’t happy with each other in bed, so he buys an escort and she starts hooking up with other men she meets online. Their son Chris (Travis Tope) is getting sexual exposure via porn web pages and also a cheerleader named Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia), whose mother Joan (Judy Greer) only wants for her daughter to be a model or actress or Hollywood starlet. Joan is dating Kent (Dean Norris), a single father to Tim (Ansel Elgort), who recently quit the high school football team because he didn’t see the point anymore and started a relationship with Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever), whose mother Patricia (Garner) is a paranoid helicopter parent who hovers over her daughter’s social media use like a hawk ready to swoop in on its breakfast. Everyone is connected with at least a dotted line. They’re all horny, paranoid and either think too much or too little of themselves.
A few subplots rear their ugly heads, mainly about sex and social media. People text and use Facebook to (mis)communicate about pointless diatribes throughout. Everyone has a secret that doesn’t really matter all that much because the screenplay that director Reitman and Erin Cressida Wilson provides a stupidly pointless narration about a satellite orbiting Earth as its top priority rather than putting an emphasis on humor or depth or character development. These aren’t people or characters to us: they’re drones we don’t care about or want to get to know.
“Men, Women & Children” isn’t funny, but it does take itself more seriously than is really necessary. Is this a comedy? A drama? A youth versus old age back and forth? Some film where the kids are in charge while the adults look like morons? Yes, and no. In trying so hard to do a lot, it ends up doing nothing whatsoever. The press release will tell you that “Men, Women & Children” is about love and human connection in the modern world. I’ll tell you that it is about a bunch of people who don’t respect themselves or each other enough to be honest, and as a result bottle up their lives and emotions because they are as insecure as a squirrel scampering across a busy highway .
When things get rolling, we think “Men, Women & Children” is going to be mainly about the young folks we encounter, yet midway through, the adults take center stage and don’t want to relinquish control, which would be fine if anyone gave a decent performance or acted like they were at all interested in helping the film as a whole not suck. Or, heaven forbid, the supposed morals and values and lives most folks talk about when they start a family or work to raise children. Bah. Pipe dreams for “Men, Women & Children.”
I suppose my expectations were slightly higher than they should have been, but the basic elements of filmmaking are not on display here. I don’t care at all about the content. It isn’t relevant. If the basics are there, the content can follow. Neither works here, however, and despite being timely enough given the prevalence of things like Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, “Men, Women & Children” puts forward nothing of value in a time where navigating complex relationships is increasingly harder rather than easier.
Poor writing. Poor acting. Poor direction. Poor character development. Poor everything. Avoid “Men, Women & Children” at all costs.
The film’s 1.85:1 1080p High Definition video transfer is crisp and clear for the most part, but coloration suffers all the way through, especially during the scenes that take place at night. The close-up shots occasionally have some grain that distracts, but it isn’t the end of the world in an otherwise tolerable visual transfer.
There are only raised voices, email chimes and the occasional argument to hear, so you won’t suffer from an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that does exactly what it needs to and doesn’t over or under perform. Natural background noise doesn’t have a role unless it’s related to a keystroke or text message, so don’t expect any audio depth or breadth. Other audio choices are French, Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1s, as well as subtitles in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
We’re offered a digital copy of the film along with the Blu-ray disc, as well as two featurettes and several deleted scenes that look into some additional omitted storylines.
A Final Word:
There is just too much wrong with “Men, Women & Children.” From start to finish, it drags and annoys. This one’s so far down it isn’t even on the map. The $16 million budget was wasted when the film brought in less than $2 million at the box office, just like my life was wasted in having to watch and review this film. Let’s hope it’s a one and done…meaning no sequel is ever even considered.