In a similar situation to probably his best effort so far, Up in the Air, director Jason Reitman tries to comment on a topical subject while weaving in a personable and affectionate story to show how the subject affects people currently. Instead of the crumbling economy and empty job market in Up in the Air, Reitman looks at social media and how it affects people in a small town and how much they rely on these devices to create relationships amongst each other.
He sets the scene in an interesting manner by setting up a web of different characters that use the internet in different ways to find the relationship they truly seek. Don and Helen Truby (Adam Sandler/Rosemarie DeWitt) go online to find other partners for themselves as they need to spice up their married lives. Their son, Chris (Travis Tope), goes online to find a girl who will please him sexually even though he could have the real thing.
At the center is Tim Mooney (Ansel Elgort) who recently quit the football team and is receiving threats from an unknown source telling him that they will kill him. Mooney is dealing with the loss of his mother, who left him and his father (Dean Norris) to live in California, and the fact that he doesn’t have any real desire to play football, which hurts his dad who knows nothing else but the sport that he played.
There is also Donna Clint (Judy Greer) who takes photographs of her junior daughter Hannah Clint (Olivia Crocicchia) for an online website that requires a paid membership to view. Hannah becomes even more excited when she begins to gain attention for a new reality show due to a local casting call at the mall.
Reitman tries to give different avenues into how social media is affecting the town with a shot of Mooney walking through a sea of kids texting, tweeting, and updating their status. From what the movie shows, his comment is that while we use all these different avenues to connect with people, it seems to be pointless as the narrator (Emma Thompson) says as she compares the entire ordeal to Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot.
The narration is odd and feels unnecessary, making the film feel like some after school special that is set there to teach people the dangers of the internet rather than commentate on it. Thompson’s voice is there giving a play-by-play of Don as he tries to find a computer to masturbate on and it feels very dejected and affirms that these people are fake rather than trying to give them any sense of reality.
This reality is what could get to the heart of this story that is topical and interesting, but instead becomes an exercise in seeing how Reitman views the world of social media and its effects on youth rather than using this topic to challenge the audience inward and to contextualize the issue.
Men, Women & Children tries so hard to be that cutting edge, Social Network-like look at the social media age and its effects on the millennials, but instead it turns into a sometimes pretentious view of one filmmaker that is at times unfocused and misguided. Reitman has the right idea, even if it doesn’t work at times, but doesn’t quite hit the mark with his latest effort.