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Men, Women & Children | Review

I Tumblr For You; The Kids Aren’t Alright in Reitman’s Latest

Jason Reitman Men, Women & ChildrenParents and their burgeoning teenagers battle their insecurities and repressed sexuality amidst ever present technology in an otherwise hushed community in a tightly woven all-American town. Sound familiar? On the surface, Jason Reitman’s latest effort Men, Women & Children is trying so very much to be American Beauty. There’s the hyper-sexualized cheerleaders, the stifled paternal figures and their mentally or morally absent partners, who all crash into their own devastating denouements. Unfortunately, despite his effort to create a modified updated retelling of Sam Mendes’ masterpiece for the plugged-in age, Reitman’s film is ersatz, and instantly forgotten.

Via Emma Thompson’s voiceover (which was used to far better effect in the underrated Stranger than Fiction), the audience is introduced to the close-knit residents of a Texan town. There’s the sexually frustrated married couple Don (Adam Sandler) and Rachel (the always luminous Rosemarie DeWitt) who each seek out sexual fulfillment through adult websites (thus giving the audience the guffaw-worthy, albeit immature, treat of hearing stiff Brit Thompson narrate Sandler’s fantasy of a “Titty-Fucking Prom Queen”). Their sexually adventurous teenaged son Chris (Travis Tope) has an attraction to Regina George-esque blonde cheerleader Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia), whose mother Joan (Judy Greer) posts shockingly provocative pictures of her on a website in the hopes of landing Hannah a lucrative acting job. Then there’s her polar opposite Patricia (Reitman alum Jennifer Garner, and Greer’s 13 Going On 30 co-star) who hosts regular meetings in her house on the dangers of the internet and how parents can best restrict online/texting access from their teenagers. Her introverted daughter Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever) develops a kinship with philosophical, Guild Wars addicted Tim (Ansel Elgort), whose father Kent (Dean Norris) is visibly heartbroken after Tim’s mother ran off to California to be with another man. Finally, there’s fellow high school cheerleader Allison (Elena Kampouris), who, despite loving parents (her father is played by another Juno vet, J.K. Simmons) suffers from an eating disorder and is cruelly masochistic when it comes to the object of her (unrequited) affection. Fragile, china doll Allison’s bedroom is a grotesque canvas of the pictures of models the men of Beautiful Girls lusted over.

Reitman and Erin Cressida Wilson’s script, based on the book of the same name by Chad Kultgen, is initially closer in tone and theme to films such as Trust, Disconnect and Joe Swanberg’s LOL (although one may even say the awful Miley Cyrus starring LOL as well). The internet is a danger zone for insecure, lonely people and can potentially provoke them towards a physical or psychological implosion. Alas, there has yet to be a solid film that can carry this simple thesis for its entire running time, and so Reitman and Wilson veer the plot into American Beauty territory.

In Reitman’s previous films, notably the acerbically biting Thank you for Smoking, the delightful Juno, and the saccharine misfire Labor Day, he has wrestled with attempting to convey various parent-child dynamics, not quite grasping that the most dynamic scenes in these films were between the featured adults (notably and respectively, Eckhart and any of his anti-smoking adversaries, barren Jennifer Garner and kid-at-heart Jason Bateman, and the pie making sugary romance between Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin). The audience longed for men, women, but no children, thank you very much Mr. Reitman.

Unlike his previous track record, however, the most memorable moments in this film are equally shared amongst the men, women and children of the large ensemble, largely due to Kultgen’s rare talent of realistically portraying teenagers in the source material and the talented cast Reitman has assembled. In particular, Elgort and Dever are achingly tender in their tear-stained final scene together and Greer displays a knack for realistic melodrama and fragility in her scenes with Norris.

Technical details are solid, especially Bruce Curtis’ naturalistic production design of a sleepy, tight knit community and the frequent hangouts habituated by the teenagers of the film. Editor Dana Glauberman and cinematographer Eric Steelberg deserve credit for making the otherwise glamorous cast appear realistically ordinary and keeping the film moving along at a brisk, tolerable pace. Not quite the misguided effort of the Hallmark movie of the week-like Labor Day but a far cry from his balanced Up in the Air, Reitman’s Men, Women & Children is a forgettable stab at rebuilding his cinematic reputation.

Reviewed on September 6th at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival – Special Presentations Programme. 116 Minutes


Leora Heilbronn is a Toronto-based writer. Top Films From Contemporary Film Auteurs: Almodóvar (Volver), Coen Bros. (Burn After Reading), Dardennes (Lorna's Silence), Haneke (The Piano Teacher), Hsiao-Hsien (Three Times), Kar-wai (In the Mood for Love), Kiarostami (Certified Copy), Lynch (Mulholland Drive), Tarantino (Inglorious Basterds), Van Sant (Good Will Hunting), von Trier (Melancholia)

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