Take a Drink: whenever somebody uses the internet
Take a Drink: if you related to the Nerf football scene.
Take a Drink: when you realize that you’ve texted much worse things to friends and family than these people.
Do a Shot: knowing that none of this matters (thank you, Pale Blue Dot).
By: Bill Arceneaux (Two Beers) –
At many points in Jason Reitman’s Men, Women & Children, the eye of the camera becomes very judgmental of the characters it is capturing. This is an element in storytelling that I really appreciate – the creator being very critical of the world created. One of my favorite “creators” is Todd Solondz, whose catalog, most notably Happiness with regards to MW&C, is nothing but an unseen God-like figure watching over people he or she is clearly disgusted with. Well, partially disgusted with anyways.
Underneath the sarcasm, Happiness does, in its own way, make you relate to these depressing and often deplorable people. We may not understand all of their actions, but at least we know that they are human, with the same range of emotions as we do and capability for folly as we have.
However, where Solondz’ work comes from a genuine shut in-like observational place, Reitman’s latest effort is almost in the vein of those pseudo intellectuals that Woody Allen picks on while waiting in line for a movie.
MW&C is an ensemble mosaic (like Happiness) that covers the lives of a few intersecting families in Austin, TX. From the parents to the High School kids, trials and tribulations come about, and are all inspired and fueled by the second screen behavior they share. Texting, instagramming, facebook messaging, tweeting, etc. are all normal now, but have we become weirder and more awkward? Is communication evolving faster than us?
Yes we have and yes it is.
Honestly, I’m a little surprised at the low Rotten Tomatoes rating the film has currently. Maybe it’s popular to dismiss Reitman now, maybe the movie and its tackling of its themes is seen as over the top or shallow, I’m not sure. The social media aspect of MW&C was seen by me to be, more or less, a tool – both for the characters and the filmmakers. You get out of it what you put into it, and that’s what these characters do and what Reitman wants to present. It’s a story that is by design of its time AND universal for the frustration, sadness, anxiety, loneliness, and wanting it expresses.
It could all be summed up through the performances of Adam Sandler and Rosemarie Dewitt. They play a married couple who have grown stale, and both seek out extramarital solutions through google searches and adware. They represent the movie not because of their use of computers but in how they act and react with themselves and others. Both are wounded and nervous, yet still in love despite going down uncharted moral territory.
In one scene, they are interviewed by their son about 9/11. They can remember exactly what they were doing, as it wasn’t all that long ago for them. Meanwhile, their son was too young at the time to grasp the importance or intensity of the event. Afterwards, he goes to his room, and searches google for images of firemen to use. 9/11 might as well have been a century ago for him. Same for the last time his parents were intimate. No worries: both problems can be solved in an instant online query. Sandler and Dewitt are fish out of water, walking on a beach of unfamiliar technologies and language, but have found a way to breath, if only for moments. They’re keeping up enough to get by, but like many of us, are a little uncertain about etiquette and repercussions. This is the kind of uncertainty that keeps them up at night.
Up at night, playing word games on separate iPads. What words are they picking?
And their son? He’s not thinking about consequences right now. He’s got xvideos bookmarked and ready to go.
Throughout the film, Emma Thompson provides narration that I can describe as funny at times, but very judging in others. For her, it all starts with NASA’s Voyager, which recently took a large picture of our small planet, from deep into space. The entirety of MW&C is framed around this achievement in humanity, which is contrasted with kids playing along poorly to Guitar Hero with REAL guitars and adults masturbating in their kids rooms. Is something being shouted down to the audience?
I can’t say that I’m a fan of narration – if you can show it visually, then do it. Reitman’s idea MUST’VE been to specifically provide a critical voice to the proceedings. Emma Thompson’s accent and dialogue is prepared in a very polite manner, but with an air of crassness and sarcasm towards the events she describes.
That, combined with Voyager’s journey and purpose, comes off as a misguided way of wagging your finger at someone. In fact, isn’t wagging your finger no longer a proper thing to do? I’d like to give Reitman the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his intent here, and would love to one day question him about it. But, this Contact-like element, along with the voice over work, just felt like a loud message I could’ve grasped from the story itself.
We’re insignificant. I get it.
Men, Women & Children falls into the black void of space with much grace and humanity, but has a snarkiness that might put off some celestial beings. Still – with no risk comes no reward, and you can’t fault Jason Reitman or The Voyager Project for not being bold. What would Todd Solondz shoot into space?
For more from the author, feel free to follow him on twitter @billreviews and check out his blog Bill.Reviews.