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"MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN"
(2014) (Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner) (R)


Read Our Full Content Movie Review for Parents

QUICK TAKE:
Drama: Numerous teens and their parents have difficulties connecting with each other in the real world the more they become "connected" to each other on the Internet and in the virtual world.
PLOT:
In a Texas suburb, multiple characters and their teenage offspring have problems connecting with each other in the real world, the more they become connected to the virtual world via social media, the Internet, mobile phones, and so forth. Don (ADAM SANDLER), a married father of two, is addicted to Internet pornography and hires a hooker to satisfy his sexual cravings. His wife, Helen (ROSEMARIE DeWITT), craves intimacy and pursues an affair with a married man via a related website. Their teenage son, Chris (TRAVIS TROPE), has been surfing Internet porn since he was 10 and can't achieve an erection in real life with the cheerleader of his dreams, Hannah (OLIVIA CROCICCHIA).

Hannah, meanwhile, dreams of being a music or TV star. Her mother, Donna (JUDY GREER), dreams that, too, and has launched a website featuring provocative pictures of the girl in hopes that it will attract a modeling agency or Hollywood talent scout. She becomes involved with Kent (DEAN NORRIS), whose wife recently left him for another man and he has been having a hard time picking up the pieces with his teenage son, Tim (ANSEL ELGORT).

Tim has quit the football team and become obsessed with the virtual identity he has created in the online, role-playing video-gaming community. He has one connection in the real world, and that's with Brandy (KAITLYN DEVER) whose overly protective mom, Patricia (JENNIFER GARNER), monitors her every movement both online and offline. Their mutual friend, Allison (ELENA KAMPOURIS), has an eating disorder and goes on websites and chat rooms to connect with people who give her dangerous tips on how to stay thin -- all under the nose of her clueless father (J.K. SIMMONS).

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Jason Reitman's "Men, Women and Children," a movie about humanity's increasing disconnect amid increased connectivity, wants so very badly to be a message movie. The problem is, the messages conveyed will come as no great revelations for anyone with even a bit of cell phone-cooked brain matter left. The messages? Hmmm. Let's see. Message one, surfing porn sites from the age of 10 is probably not a healthy activity once a young boy reaches his teen years. Message two, taking photos of your own teenage daughter in swimsuits, cheerleader outfits, and cowgirl get-ups and posting them on the Web for sale is almost certainly not a good idea. Message three? If the sex in your marriage has gone stale, a hubby should most definitely NOT troll escort websites and break out the Visa for an $800-a-night hooker.

Those are just a few of the basic parables that, I guess, may need to be underscored for some. As for me, I'm just a reviewer. And as a reviewer of "Men, Women and Children," I can definitely tell you that this is one movie that really TRIES. It tries to shock you. It tries to titillate you. It tries to preach to you. It tries to be a cautionary tale for our times, a time capsule for future audiences to open up. It tries so hard, almost every second of its running time, to be something great ... and it's freakin' exhausting by the end, I tell ya!

I just wish it tried to entertain me, even for a few minutes. The worst thing about "Men, Women and Children" is it is so unrelentingly dour. It has no hope whatsoever for where humanity is headed. None. It's one thing to be a heavy movie. It's another thing to actually FEEL heavy throughout without pause or relief. All of the characters in this large ensemble are so glum, so sad-sack, so unfulfilled. They talk in slow, often hushed tones. There's no pep in anyone. I mean, what can you say about a movie in which 90 percent of the characters feel even worse AFTER they achieve orgasms?!

And in many instances, this kind of heavy direction and mannered performances are completely at odds with the people playing the roles. If I never saw "The Fault in Our Stars," I would never, ever believe that film's dynamic male lead, Ansel Elgort, was capable of any charm whatsoever. Here, he plays a high school's star athlete, reeling from the recent divorce of his parents, having just quit the football team, and immersed himself in the culture of online gaming. And he just has dead eyes almost every second he's on screen.

Adam Sandler, meanwhile, plays the aforementioned straying husband, a porn addict who turns to a high-priced prostitute he contacts online when his marriage goes cold. And this just makes him SO sad! Everything makes him sad and mopey, in fact. He's even sad when he discovers that his 15-year-old son has gotten into online porn -- not because the kid is doing himself serious psychological damage by being exposed to everything from bondage to sexual humiliation. But because he didn't get to introduce him personally to the thrill of such porn like his dad passed that skin mag on to him years earlier.

Some of this coud have been pretty edgy, daring stuff. The 15-year-old son's subplot, in particular, gets deeply warped when the kid can't get aroused for the willing cheerleader of his dreams in the flesh. Disturbed, he drills a hole into a Nerf ball, fills it with lotion, and ... well ... clearly a warm apple pie was not available to him in the moment.

The problem is it's edgy for edgy's sake. None of this really goes anywhere. Reitman and his co-screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson fail to bring this storyline or really any of the others to anything resembling satisfying conclusions. I wasn't looking for a Hollywood happy ending for any of these people. But I was at least looking for something in the way of dramatic or thematic resolutions. This flick just leaves everyone stuck in limbo.

Even worse, it's clear as the film gets deeper into its final act that Reitman and Wilson were only really interested in some of the characters and not others. Sandler and his similarly unfaithful wife do get something of a final scene together. It's vague as all heck. But there is punctuation. Ditto Jennifer Garner's storyline where she plays a mom who goes to such great lengths to shield her daughter from the dangers of social media, tweeting, posting, and so forth that she installs a device on the girl's computer that records her every keystroke and keeps constant surveillance of where she is via the GPS in her mobile phone.

Everyone else? They're left in narrative Purgatory. And Emma Thompson's God-like narration -- literally from outer space, looking back at our speck-like planet via the Voyager spacecraft -- attempts to wrap it all up in something of a bow. But it's a half-hearted try. It has none of the bite of Will Lyman's clinically incisive voiceover that highlighted the brilliant and somewhat similarly themed "Little Children" of a few years back. Even Brenda Strong's disembodied observations throughout the seasons of "Desperate Housewives" added some interesting texture to the suburban failings of its flawed main characters.

Is this a noble attempt at trying to craft a Very Important Movie? Yeah, I suppose. And every 10 or so minutes, there IS a well-crafted scene that teases viewers with how good this movie could have been. Too often, though, the whole thing just feels ... I dunno ... offline. I give it a 3 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed October 14, 2014 / Posted October 17, 2014


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