A cross-generational look at relationships in the era of social media saturation. Don’t expect this to get many Likes during its brief theatrical run.
Director Jason Reitman showed us the adolescent dating game in Juno, and the grown ups equivalent with Up in the Air. This time around we get both, minus the humour and engaging personalities.
Here he gives us multiple narrative strands, consisting of several high school students making their first forays into relationships while their parents struggle to deal with their own various states of marital estrangement.
As with most ensemble stories, some characters are less interesting than others. Yet despite this inconsistency, there’s also a distracting sameness. After a while you get the niggling feeling that all the stories are a little too neatly calibrated, that their respective arcs are too closely mirroring each other.
Within each story modern technology is repped as the major tool of communication. Teenagers text each other when they’re ten metres apart, while facebook, instagram, fantasy role-play games, dating sites and adult channels are all used liberally, either to reach out to others or for more private recreations (although invariably what starts as private is soon exposed).
It’s a fairly bleak outlook which strangely lacks bite. Bullying, suicide, anorexia, the cyber exploitation of youth…..it’s all in there, but none of it packs that much of a punch.
By far the most successful strand concerns two loners, Tim (Ansel Elgort) the high school football hero who quits the team and goes into his shell when his parents break up, and Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever) a sullen girl whose every incoming and outgoing message is controlled by her domineering mum (Jennifer Garner). The tentative relationship between these two insecure souls is the best thing the film has going for it.
This has been given a pretty cold reception in the States. It’s neither a comedy nor an edgy social commentary. But while it may not be what fans of Reitman expected, neither is it the car crash some claim it to be.
Men, Women and Children releases on November 27, 2014 through Paramount