“Men, Women & Children” is a sprawling ensemble drama that I suppose is meant to shed some light on the widening gap between analogue parents and their iphone toting kids, but comes off more as a high tech “Reefer Madness.” Someone needs to jiggle director Jason Reitman’s cord and reboot.
The movie, based on the Chad Kultgen novel, suggests that social media, video games and texting are the root of all modern evil. Anorexia, the shameless pursuit of Kim Kardashian style fame, teen pregnancy and even adultery, it seems to say, can be traced back to a key stroke or two.
It’s a remarkably clumsy observation from a director who has treated us to a searing look at downsizing in “Up in the Air” and a satiric look at lobbyists on “Thank You For Smoking.” Leading the charge against internet interaction is Patricia (Jennifer Garner), a mom who monitors her daughter’s every text and post and hands out pamphlets on the dangers of the selfie. She’s a hardcore crusader, the Mary Whitehouse of the anti-internet crowd. You expect her to yell, “Get off my URL,” at any moment. In any other Reitman movie she’d be played for laughs, the center for the satire, but here we’re supposed to take her seriously and that decision lies at the heart of what is very wrong with “Men, Women and Children.”
Instead of mining the rich vein of satire in the disconnect between kids and parents, Reitman pitches the tone in the area of an afterschool special. The listless direction and inability to answer any of the questions it raises, coupled with the tiresome cliché of texts and posts popping up all over the screen, overshadows some engaging work by the actors—particularly Judy Greer as a momanger to a teen wannabe, and Ansel Elgort and Kaitlyn Dever as a couple struggling to cope with their mothers.
Given the film’s attitude “Men, Women and Children” might have been better off with a title like “Old Folks Just Don’t Understand.”