Men, Women & Children
Directed by Jason Reitman
Follows the story of a group of high school teenagers and their parents as they attempt to navigate the many ways the internet has changed their relationships, their communication, their self-image, and their love lives.
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★★★★½ review by Eli Hayes on Letterboxd
Hi Letterboxd, Bitter Eli here. Normal Eli has taken some time off and allowed me to spawn from an abyss of displeasure and frustration at the Letterboxd community's reaction to Jason Reitman's most recent (and greatest) directorial achievement. Before we begin, I'll provide you with a textual recreation of how I came into being:
*begins to scroll through the Letterboxd reviews of Men, Women and Children* ugh... aw, really? must be a fluke... nope, here's another... wow, and another, and another *frowns* *frowns again* *continues to frown* *frown becomes permanent* oh, no... ugh, damn... *checks to make sure that he's reading reviews of the right film* wow, this sucks... this really sucks *something ticks* no. no. no. *vision starts to blur* no. no. NO. *gets a nose bleed* NO. NO. NO. NOOO. NOOOOOO. STOP IT I CAN'T TAKE IT ANY MORE *tries to close tab but becomes possessed by something dark and unfamiliar* WHAT IS HAPPENING. DEMONS AND LEECHES. ALL I CAN SEE ARE DEMONS AND LEECHES MY VISION IS CLOUDING WITH BLACK HOLES AND ENTITIES WHY ARE MY EYES BLEEDING I CAN'T FEEL MY SOUL I CAN'T FEEL MY SOoOoOoUL I THINK MY INTESTINES ARE CHOKING ME AM I BEING SWALLOWED BY MY OWN SHADOW!?!?!? MY MIND IS GOING DAVE MY MIND IS GOING I'M MELTING I'M MEEEEEELLLTTTIIINNNGGGGGG
And the result, my dear friends, is Bitter Eli. For a visual demonstration of something resembling what I look like, see:
Now that we've gotten all of that out of the way, I should probably explain to you why I'm so irritated by the negative reception of this film. It would be unfair of me to be annoyed with the mere notion of people disliking a film that I love; that's not what has gotten me all riled up. I'm more angered by the extent of the negative reception - the abundance of spiteful reviews and the degree of their hostility toward the film, which I think is a very important work.
Men, Women and Children is a film that deals with the very difficult subject matter of how important constant communication and social interaction has become to we humans, specifically Americans, since September 11th, 2001, when our security as a country was threatened and had the potential of becoming derailed. Cell phones became the norm and social interaction became an incessant thing because fear of losing those close to us started to plague our minds. As a result, social media saw immense growth, new forms of technology and ways for us to stay in touch with one another flooded the market; eventually, dashboards and news feeds came into existence, ways for us to examine, on a grand and instant scale, the lives of not just those closest to us, but almost anyone.
Human live evolved, or devolved, into a display.
Communication technology and social media lost (some of, but not all of) its original purpose and became a way of life. Many of us no longer read expansive and heavily detailed literary texts such as Tolstoy’s War and Peace (how many people in my generation can say that they have read anything of equivalent density? not many); we now read briefer and more concise passages on the web such as status updates and Tweets. Our brains have shifted. Our minds have re-wired themselves to crave these shorter bits of information. As long as were consuming information, we’re happy, whether the depth of such information is absorbed or not.
We are, indeed, the very product of our technological advances.
This is the world that Men, Women and Children takes place in. Our world. The pale, blue dot. But Men, Women and Children doesn't focus on this particular aspect of humanity. It focuses on many aspects of the present time, aspects created by the rapid-fire, paranoid world of today.
(Slight spoilers for the remainder of the review, but when I say slight, I mean slight. It's nothing that would, in my opinion, negatively affect your viewing experience; if anything, I would hope that it'd enhance it... but proceed at your own risk, I suppose. The rest of my review comes straight from the heart.)
It's concentration lies in interpersonal relationships: the couple slowly distancing themselves from one another as a result of a lack of communication, feeling trapped in what they see as the confines of marriage, using the web to receive from others what they need from one another. The mother deeply frightened for her daughter's safety in a world that seems so much larger than it did when she was her child's age. The next mother, unaware that she is quite literally exhibiting her own kid, unaware of the vastness of the web and the potential consequences of her actions... how this exhibition might shape her daughter into a shallower version of the girl that she raised. The boy who utilizes the internet as a form of escape from abandonment, his wounds becoming more and more infected each day that he refuses to face his problems, each day that he buries himself in a screen, rather than looking to those he has left, who still love him.
I've heard complaints, that Men, Women and Children doesn't take place in reality, that it doesn't know the truth of the new age, that it's a delusional portrayal of a technologically driven world. I couldn't disagree more, and I can't help believing that people may feel threatened and reel back from portrayals of existence that may hit too close to home. It is, of course, an exaggerated form of reality, but it is nonetheless a very fine portrait of a time called the present.
The final moments of the film, I found to be particularly touching: a satellite carrying off into oblivion arbitrary markings, meaningless words and sounds, a hopeless desire for a race to be known. There's no sense thinking about the past or the future, how many people have existed and will come to exist, and how small that makes you. It's more important to remember that your time on this earth is limited, and rather than looking at that fact cynically, harness it as a means of recycling kindness. You and the people you love are your past, present and future. Everything else is just noise.
Bitter Eli, signing out, and feeling much less bitter (and much more appreciative) than he did when he began writing this review.
Oh, the beauty of catharsis.
★★★½ review by Austin Gorski on Letterboxd
"I think if I disappeared tomorrow, the universe wouldn't really notice."
You'd be pressed to find anyone above ten years old that doesn't have a smart phone today. Social networking and cell phones have a massive impact on our lives today, there's no denying that. But, what I find funny is that despite the fact that Men, Women & Children heavily features social networking and how it has affected the lives of, you guessed it, men, women and children, it hones in on the one aspect of social media that many try to avoid discussing: how it affects our relationships and sex lives. This is what gives Jason Reitman's latest feature the upper hand, as the film could have very easily been another predictable "public service message" about how social network is terrible for people.
That isn't to say that the film welcomes social networking with open-arms. In fact, the film flat-out spits in the face of some of the featured social media sites and shows how they can create fake and lifeless caricatures. There's a scene where one high school student asks if his parents saw the events of 9/11 unfold on their phones, which is not only a bit insulting, but sadly true in that some people nowadays act and think like that. But, the film isn't afraid to also show that there might be some pros to social media as well.
His parents go on by telling him that cell phones started becoming popular after 9/11 because it was a way to make sure your close friends were alright in places where you might not usually be able to contact them. But, most of us know that the spread of this idea is much larger than anyone could have imagined.
Many of the lead characters use social media websites as a way to "escape" the real world. Tim Mooney (played by Ansel Elgort) has turned the world of virtual video games after his mom ditches town and leaves Tim and his father on their own as she gets remarried. Making an impact on his life, Tim has an epiphany and quits playing football, as he finds it to be nothing more than a hassle in life. Because of this, Tim loses a lot of his old friends and now only relies on his game to make it through the day. Without this game, would Tim even be a character in the story, or would it already be a lost cause?
Brandy Beltmeyer, played by Kaitlyn Dever, is basically a prisoner to her own home. Her mom (Jennifer Garner) makes sure that her daughter doesn't fall into the "internet craze" by constantly checking her phone and Facebook page to make sure that she's safe. Not only does she feel robbed of an opportunity than practically every other kid her age has, but she can't even hold a stable relationship without her mom getting cold feet and ending said relationship before it even starts.
Brandy's only escape is to a Tumblr page that she's managed to keep secret from her mom. Here, she can open up to whoever is looking and show off who she really is, since her mom robs her of that in the real world. Garner's character, who's so focused on making sure her daughter doesn't get harmed by someone on the internet doesn't seem to understand that, in this day and age, the internet has become an integrable part of everyday life.
Not only that, but the internet is almost a necessity today, especially when it comes to forming relationships. Nowadays, people seem to be almost afraid to have physical interactions with others and instead resort to texting or online group chats to do it. Sitting behind a monitor is a much easier way to communicate with someone than talking to them in person. There's much less at stake and why go through all that fuss and embarrassment when it can be exclusively between you and another person?
Men, Women & Children uses Tim and Brandy as its platform to balance between the modern-day romance in the real world and the virtual world, even though both still fall into some social media trappings. They are clearly in a much more traditional relationship, whereas the cliched football/cheerleader couple that is another angle to the film feels so much more artificial. For starters, Chris, the football player, has the mindset that sex must be the way it's presented in the pornos he watches. As his tastes in porn become more extreme and strange, he starts feeling unsatisfied from a sexual standpoint until he finds something even more "out of the norm".
Meanwhile, Hannah, the cheerleader, is your typical sixteen year-old who isn't afraid to whore herself out to become famous. She, with the help of her mother, (played wonderfully by Judy Greer), start up a website with provocative pictures of her scattered throughout the site. While this is sad, it is something that most definitely happens nowadays. But, the fact that the mother herself is in on it only adds to the fact that the internet hasn't just changed the younger generation, but also the next one up as well. Bored parents or lost souls also use the vast sea known as the internet to calm their sexual frustrations, but the film shows how this does in fact lead to an emptier lifestyle if used incorrectly.
The one scene that drives this point home is presented late in the film from Adam Sandler, that I will not spoil. But, the scene goes to show just how distant we all feel because of the fact that the internet has turned most of us into soulless sex objects. We're all turning into a massive corporation on our own, one run by sex and public appearances. Most of us feel empty because we live in an era of minimal physical relationships and fake ones that we form on the internet. We don't know any other way to react to these situations other than to run and hide our emotions behind a computer screen and take hours on end thinking of how to respond to messages. And the worst part is that most people either don't realize this, or they just don't care.
While Men, Women & Children might not be a perfect film (it has some stories that could have ultimately been cut and the voiceover is absolutely dreadful), it opens up a new layer to the tired topic that is social media in modern-day life today. The film skirts towards melodrama and pretentiousness a few times, but the film is an important one, that's for sure. And it doesn't just rip on social networks; it also shows how they might not be as terrifying as some might make them out to be. The main idea is to use these tools wisely and to adapt into this lifestyle instead of trying to barge into it. Because, even though some people might been tired of the whole internet age that we now live in (myself included), we have to eventually accept it for what it is and move on, as it has now become a part in most everyone's lives today.
But I can't help but think that this one could have been a true game-changer had it been released a few years earlier.
★★★★ review by Luke Pauli on Letterboxd
I see a lot of people mugging this film off. It made less than a million bucks in the US. Why? Why is this? I dug it. Sure, it isn't as deep or profound as it thinks it is, and some of the points Reitman tries to make are fairly obvious, but why the hate? The internet is such a prevalent and all-consuming thing in our modern culture, and this film tackles that, showing how people present themselves one way in real life and have another, sometimes more truthful, representation in the digital world. Again, this is hardly world-shaking information, but I can't think of another film that tackles these issues, and Men, Women & Children tackles them well. It has a great cast, including Sandler, Hank from Breaking Bad, Jennifer Garner as the mother from Hell, and the great Judy Greer, it covers a myriad of issues that people face, and how people are just making to make a connection, to belong to something, no matter how. Some of the plot lines are more effective than others, but I enjoyed the film. So there.
★★★★½ review by James Healey on Letterboxd
Every year there is always that one film that critics and most audiences hate so fucking much that makes no sense to me. Last year it was Only God Forgives, next year it will be Lost River, but this year it's Men, Women & Children. This film is definitely not perfect, but it is still an amazing film and one of 2014's best.
Ok let me get the flaws out of the way first. The narration/space CGI is awful and unnecessary. Thankfully it's not too overbearing to bring down the experience but it should have been cut. Speaking of cutting, the film is just a bit too long in my opinion. I'm not really sure what I would have cut if it was up to me, but I think it could have been shortened a tad. The biggest problem is Jennifer Garner's character. I understand this whole film is an exaggeration, but her character is WAAAAY to over exaggerated. I have a friend who's mom is absolutely insane in that sort of over protecting Christian way, but even she would probably laugh at that character...or get some ideas. Jesus Christ I wanted to strangle her every time she was on camera. Absolutely one of my most hated characters of all time.
Start of MINOR SPOILER.
By time the end of the movie comes around and they try to make you feel sympathetic for her, I still wanted her to have her brains blown out or something, that would have at least been satisfying.
End of MINOR SPOILERS.
On to the good stuff. Everyone complains that this film tells us nothing new, it's 2014 and we already know this. WHO CARES! There are plenty of great films that repeat messages me already know. This film is about human connection in today's society. Everyone today is always on their phones 24/7 and all that other shit so it's needed to be accurate. I think it's better to look at this film as a satire than portraying a message.
Despite many of the film's characters being unlikeable, like most of society, by time the film ended, one of the scenes with two major characters(I won't say who, but it's obvious if you saw the film), had my eyes tearing up because I really have a shit about them. Besides them, Adam Sandler kills it what I believe to be his best role since Funny People, or maybe even Punch-Drunk Love. This film proves he still has talent when used correctly. His last scene was probably the best scene in the whole film.
Despite most people hating this, I recommend seeing it for yourself and making your own opinion. That's what I did, and I loved it. Fuck the haters.
★★★½ review by Joe Koski on Letterboxd
Possibly the most underrated film I've seen all year.
Although heavily flawed in it's execution (Emma Thompson's voice over, except for the ending scene, felt really out of place along with some incredibly awkward editing choices), Jason Reitman's Men, Women & Children is a touching slice-of-life on how the internet and social media is changing our culture for better and for worse. The acting (especially by Adam Sandler, Ansel Elgort, Kaitlyn Dever, and Judy Greer) are truly wonderful and the lamp-lit cinematography and overall direction by Reitman were gorgeous and immersive. While I can totally get why people would hate this one, I found it to be a incredibly relatable piece of work that I am already interested in seeing again.
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