By Lisa Nault
I am not one who usually labels a film as good or bad. Most of the time a film has areas it does well in or vise versa. In the case of Jason Reitman’s “Men, Women, and Children,” the film has so many problems within it that even the good aspects of it can be forgotten by the end.
The premise of the film appears simple: the audience watches the stories of several people who are dealing with this new age of technology in different ways and how each is impacted by media outlets. Fair warning in advance, this article is full of spoilers.
I will start off by stating what the film did well, because that is going to be quick. First, not all of the acting is bad and in fact only once was I frustrated by how an actor said their lines. I am not a huge Adam Sandler fan and feel that many of his roles are simply just Adam Sandler playing Adam Sandler. I was pleasantly surprised by him in this film. He tried something new and was more stoic than usual. I also have to say that Emma Thompson as a narrator was a wonderful choice. She sounded omniscient while also having very funny moments.
The other aspect of the film I really enjoyed was the whole opening sequence. The film opens with the overlapping sounds of humans speaking in all different languages and then we see the Voyager spacecraft floating through space. As the opening credits continue, the voices change into a beautiful oldies-sounding song as we watch the spacecraft move past Jupiter, Saturn, and other planets. The imagery is astounding and it immediately grabs the audience’s attention.
Throughout the film a shot of the spacecraft will appear seemingly at random for a few moments until it cuts back to the characters. I was very interested in how the two would relate back to each other in the conclusion. Sadly, I was disappointed because after the beginning of the film, the movie takes a left turn and plummets to its demise.
The connection that was hinted at since the beginning of the movie was simply that our universe is immense and us humans on Earth are so small in the grand scheme of things. Even though Earth is small, it is our home. That is it. Nothing else. I am still frustrated by this simplistic and seemingly meaningful point.
The film could have been much more creative than that. It could have made the connection that while technology is wonderful and all around us, it is important for us to sometimes take a moment and step back from it to observe what is around us. That connection already seemed to be hinted at when it opened to the spacecraft and all the audience hears is people talking over each other but as the spacecraft moves farther back in space we hear one eloquent song play as we see the beauty of space. The film’s lesson at the end was childish and almost irrelevant to what the characters had been going through.
The “Men, Women, and Children” trailer tells the viewer that what they are going to see will involve affairs, provocative imagery, and disconnected relationships between kids and their parents. I do not usually need trigger warnings for films because I actually like going in not knowing what is going to happen and I can usually handle what is shown. I do understand that certain topics affect people though so I feel it is important to mention that this film has way more in it then it “reveals” to you in the trailer. Yes it has affairs, provocative imagery, and disconnected relationships but it also has the effects of divorce on a family, an eating disorder, pornographic sites, sexual fetishes, abuse, essentially rape, and suicide. Those are all huge issues that people can certainly be shocked by if they are not ready for them. My problem with the issues brought up by the film is that it does a bad job handling them.
One girl in the film has an eating disorder. The audience hears through dialogue that she used to be heavier and now starves herself to maintain a “more appealing figure” in order for the guy she likes to want her back. As the film continues he does have sex with her but continues to cast her aside and will call on her for a booty call. At the end of the film, she is outside of his house going to answer the booty call but decides against it and throws a rock through the window. That is the end of her arc in the film. “Men, Women, and Children” implies that her story has concluded in a happy ending but if you think about it then you realize it does not. We are given no reason for her to suddenly change her mind about him except for it is a movie and we need a happy ending. We also never see how she deals with her eating disorder and if she ever recovers. Especially in the United States, eating disorders are a problem and should not be written off as it is in the plot. Her parents find out and the audience is never shown how they are going to go about this situation or how they are going to help their daughter. The family should have been suspicious of this disorder if literally every inch of her bedroom walls is covered in female stomachs and she loses so much weight in the span of only a summer.
That is another problem with the film: everyone’s story arc is happily resolved even if it is never actually resolved. There is forced character development with no reason behind the change. There is a boy in the film who can only be aroused by being dominated as a result of the porn he continuously watches. This is a problem because he is ashamed of it and cannot tell the girl he wants to sleep with his fetish and she ends up saying, “You have some sort of sexual problem and I cannot handle that.” That is his ending. We see him through a montage looking at pictures of the girl while under his covers but there is no resolution to his story. The film never discusses how his sexual fetish is going to impact his relationships in the future or even that people can have sexual fetishes and not be seen as deviants. The problem is that there is no resolution; it just says, oh well we are going to say he is happy now.
“Men, Women, and Children” has too many stories it is trying to tell in 119 minutes. Some stories were not necessary, like the affair. It had very little to do with technology except that it parallels how routine life has become with it in our lives. That plot point was unimportant and seemed to be implying that affairs are normal and even okay so long as nobody talks about them. There’s a random relationship that occurs between two single parents that has nothing to do with technology except that the woman takes almost pornographic pictures of her daughter and the man has a son who likes video games. Cut those stories and expand on the others to allow more development of characters and add scenes where characters are confronting their problems.
I could go on about “Men, Women, and Children” and if you want to hear more, then stop me in the hall or email me but this article is already too long to say more.
The film hits theaters on October 17 and I would recommend saving your money for something better. It’s a real shame that the movie was so bad because I honestly loved the beginning.
“Men, Women, and Children” will leave you frustrated and annoyed that you spent money on it, which is why I recommend avoiding the film entirely.