Tales of technological terror in “Men, Women, & Children”

The beautifully intricate portrait of Paramount Pictures’ Men, Women, & Children.

photo via wikipedia.org under Creative Commons license

The beautifully intricate portrait of Paramount Pictures’ Men, Women, & Children.

Alec Badalian, Film/Staff Writer

Broad audience appeal probably wasn’t something director Jason Reitman was aiming for with his despondent, perceptive social media based drama Men, Women & Children, based on the Chad Kultgen novel of the same name. The film is ponderous, somewhat unfocused and primarily melancholic. That being said, though it’s not particularly the most enjoyable experience, it’s still a mesmerizing satire with a collection of astounding performances and expedient themes.

Opening October 17, this dense, complicated drama consists of an intertwining compendium of stories all crammed into a seemingly brief 120 minute runtime. It begins with the Truby family and their various sexual dysfunctions. A now distant husband and wife, Helen and Don (Rosemarie DeWitt and Adam Sandler), have begun using online dating websites to see other people and their son Chris (Travis Tope) has been hopelessly desensitized by online debauchery, rendering himself unable to retain genuine romantic relations. He finds great difficulty in becoming romantically involved with aspiring actress/cheerleader Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia), whose unassuming mother (Judy Greer) posts devilishly unwholesome photos of her enthusiastic daughter on her “acting website.”

Furthermore, another cheerleader (Elena Kampouris) unhealthily explores a plethora of pro-anorexia websites, all in the hopes that she will spark the affection of a boy who’s completely devoid of any respect for her. Hannah’s mother then starts dating the grieving Kent (Dean  Norris), a single father to Tim (Ansel Elgort), who has just quit the football team due to his beliefs of universal insignificance and pointlessness.

Other than being consumed by an online role-playing game, Tim begins spending time with an introverted girl named Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever), who, in order to see him, must escape the strict technological supervision of her mother (Jennifer Garner), who tirelessly scans every click and text she makes. All of this is topped off with the sardonic, omniscient narration of Emma Thompson, who comments upon the tribulations of these suburban, middle-class white people.

For a film with so much going on all at once, it never feels undeveloped or rushed. Each story gets its own time to unfold, and they all contain a certain type of impact, all of which being tied together by the idea that technology has created new outlets for people to be despicable and/or unhealthy.

It’s not pleasant to watch, but it’s the truth.

All of these subplots, both individually and as a whole, have these brutally honest, upsetting and frightening qualities to them, which just makes the entire film exceptionally gripping. However, these stories could’ve been emotionally empty if handled poorly, but thankfully, all the actors treat the material immaculately. Every gesture made is pitch perfect, as they are never under nor overplayed by this group of talented thespians. Surprisingly enough, the typically obnoxious Adam Sandler is incredible with a quiet, meaningful performance. Likewise with Ansel Elgort, who makes a major improvement from his unbearably awful performance in The Fault in Our Stars.

This is the type of film that can’t be casually recommended. The subject matter is quite dark and explicit, but appropriately so. It wisely states that technology isn’t the cause of misbehavior amongst people, rather than stereotypically blaming it. Though technology has increased ignorance within certain people, the root of the problem is that we’re all just human and are flawed by default. This sharp, well-structured statement and the all-around terrific performances make this a truly underrated gem.