MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN
Director: Jason Reitman
Screenwriter: Erin Cressida Wilson and Jason Reitman
Runtime: 119 mins.
Australian release date: 27 November 2014
Previewed at: Paramount Theatrette, Sydney, on 24 November 2014
The Internet has been widely available to most of us for some 25 years now, certainly long enough for a generation to have been raised on it and for their parents to have learned to adapt to it; it has undoubtedly changed human behaviour but, perhaps regrettably, not human nature.
Rather, it has given many users the ability to unleash the worst side of their nature under its apparent cloak of invisibility and this is the subject of Men, Women & Children. Through a series of vignettes, à la Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, linked only by the comings and goings surrounding a Texas high school, Jason Reitman succeeds in airing issues about the search for immediate gratification and instant fame. In doing so he covers infidelity, gaming culture, anorexia, cyber bullying, texting and sexting, and the proliferation of Internet porn. Ironically though, given the immediacy of modern communication through our iPhones, tablets and laptops, he concludes that far from bringing us all together, the Internet has driven us apart.
Based on Chad Kultgen’s eponymous novel, the script follows the lives of seven families and fourteen principal characters from two generations, the parents and their children. Bookended by footage of the 1977 Spacecraft Voyager as it heads off into deep space looking to communicate with whatever is out there (an obvious metaphor for the characters’ own desire for contact) and narrated by Emma Thompson, the film observes these individuals with a detached eye, a bit reserved because, frankly, their actions are more than a little disturbing. There’s the masturbating father, the mother who sells risqué photos of her daughter online, the teenage boy addicted to porn and another addicted to the virtual world of his favourite war game, the anorexic who seeks approval and advice from an online support group, the overly protective ‘mom’ filtering her child’s online life, the bored woman looking for adventure outside the marital home, and so on and so on. Pretty much the whole gamut of online perversity.
Another interesting aspect of Men, Women & Children is its examination of the paradox that, in this brave new world of the net, it is the older generation who are the learners and their children who are their teachers. This generational divide and quasi role-reversal, vis-à-vis technology and social media, intrigued co-writer Wilson. She explains, “The adults are newbies at this and they don’t know exactly what to do, so they’re fumbling through it - whereas the kids are really fast at it and horrifyingly brilliant at living this kind of life…”
While dealing with some pretty heavy themes, Reitman’s and Wilson’s script is not without humour, black though it may be. The ensemble cast is uniformly excellent; we recognise the people they play because we see them all around us every day (there by the grace of God go all of us)! The director’s long-term collaborators, cinematographer Eric Steelberg and editor Dana E. Glauberman, are largely responsible for the objective ‘look’ of the film. The camera seems to roam through the homes and bedrooms of the cast as though we are remotely spying on them with a webcam, observing them from a distance while not engaging with them, and this is a fitting way to deal with the material at hand.
Men, Women & Children holds up a mirror to current day society and the reflection is not pretty. It offers hope though, in the redemption of many of the characters as the scales fall from their eyes, brought about by a series of dramatic events. Of the film, Reitman has said, “I think the message of the movie is ultimately, everyone just wants connection with each other whether we may be chasing it online or on our cell phones. But what we really want is a true connection...” It’s a message that was lost on one of the critics at the preview I saw - she was too busy checking her Facebook page to get it!