'Men, Women & Children' review: A flailing, clichéd rant against the Internet
This unfocused, meandering and condescending bit of melodramatic anti-Internet propaganda is every bit as subtle and nuanced as the "Reefer Madness" stance on marijuana.
In short: Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Judy Greer, Ansel Elgort, Kaitlyn Dever and Dean Norris star in this film about the Internet's effect on the lives of Texas high school parents and students. (Watch the trailer)
If this R-rated after-school special is to be believed, then Al Gore's greatest invention is little more than a gateway to body dysmorphia, marital infidelity, obsessive video game playing, porn addiction, hyper-unrealistic sexual expectations, child exploitation, social isolation, cyberbullying and (of course) suicide. Any single one of these subjects could make an interesting dramatic narrative - but "Men, Women & Children" is like drinking out of the fire hose of anti-social media cynicism. This scatter-brained mess tackles way too many topics and way too many characters - which results in a movie that does no service to any of its complex issues, establishes shallow stories with one-dimensional characters and presents an insultingly simple case that "internet, bad"
The fact that this film doesn't have any clear protagonist doesn't help at all. Despite its massive cast, "Men, Women & Children" does not present even a single protagonist who the audience can cheer for -- at best, there are a couple characters worthy of pity. Everyone else is pretty much a one-note character whose approach to life has been warped by the Internet's very existence. On the flip side, this movie does have a very clear antagonist - the Internet in all its forms, be it AshleyMadison, sexting, MMORPGs, Internet porn, Facebook and Tumblr. Oh, and Jennifer Garner's character, who (surprisingly) is the only clearly defined and driven character out of the whole lot.
The fact that people like Garner's uber-paranoid/protective parent or the hypsersexual fame-obsessed cheerleader actually exist does not excuse the cartoonish and over-the-top story. Nothing about this movie is subtle. Pretty much everyone is obsessed with the Internet in some form or fashion: be it online gaming, teens only talking when they have to (preferring texts and IMs) or just flat out crazy porn fetish videos. And when in doubt, this narrative always chooses the over-dramatic plot turn instead of a nuanced character choice.
Finally, this film drags the brilliant astronomer Carl Sagen through the mud of its stupidity as well. His famous "Pale Blue Dot" excerpt is sporadically referenced throughout "Men, Women & Children" in a forced, sad attempt to impart Sagen's genius onto this pseudo-intellectual/profound about the "evils of the Internet, man." Poor Emma Thompson is tasked with offering a detached narrator voiceover to fill in the gaps in this lazy, simple story while also stooping for cheap laughs by hijacking her regal accent to describe horrible sex acts featured in Internet porn clips. You know, because scatological dialogue is just funnier in a British accent.
Final verdict: Director Jason Reitman's latest has a few honest and sad moments about a global society that's simultaneously intimately connected yet coldly isolated -- but these are fleeting and rare moments. Overall, this soapbox commentary of "how the Internet has destroyed morality" wastes some fine performances in an over-the-top diatribe that exploits every overdramatic plot trick in the book to make its narrow-sighted and cynical point.
"Men, Women & Children" opens in limited release on Oct. 3 and nationwide on Oct. 17 - and is rated R for strong sexual content including graphic dialogue throughout-some involving teens, and for language.