[Film Review] “Men, Women & Children” – The Most Misunderstood Movie of 2014

According to RottenTomatoes, Men, Women & Children is one of the worst reviewed major releases this year. Starring Adam Sandler (in a surprisingly subtle performance), Jennifer Garner, Dean Norris (Breaking Bad), Judy Greer, Ansel Elgort (The Fault in our Stars), and a whole bunch of other vaguely recognizable faces, the consensus among most critics is that writer/director Jason Reitman is trying to blame modern technology for all our problems, resulting in a preachy, cheesy story that is more pretentious than wise. And I agree that blaming technology for the problems of the human race is incredibly foolish; it’s one of my biggest pet peeves and I would loathe any film that tried to suggest that peoples’ lives would be so much better if they just, like, stopped staring at their phones and started living life, man. But here’s the thing: I don’t know what movie the critics were watching, but Men, Women & Children is not the preachy film they think it is.

There’s a reason the title is not “Facebook, Twitter & Tumblr”: This is a story examining how parents, friends, and lovers interact with each other in 2014. So, yes, social media and smart phones do play a role, because that’s what modern life is. But to only focus on that is to miss the bigger picture. When a mother (Judy Greer) uses a website to post sensual pictures of her teenage daughter to try to help her daughter get a modeling/acting job, the film never blames websites. This is just the 2014 version of an age-old story: a parent that wants their child to succeed where they themselves failed, pushing the child too far in the process. When a star high school running back (Ansel Elgort) quits the football team and withdraws into online gaming, again, the film is not suggesting video games turn people into hermits. It’s a story about a young boy succumbing to depression, how he copes, and how his father (Dean Norris) struggles to understand what his son is growing through. No blame is ever placed, technology is simply a backdrop for very human stories.

If these examples all sound like a cheesy high school PSA, well, you’re not totally wrong. This movie is not perfect. Some of the dialogue feels like it was written by an adult who has no idea how young people actually speak. If this film is meant to show American life in 2014, it would have done better to include more diversity, as America is not just middle class straight white people. It often drifts into cliche stories of peer-pressure, teenage sex, and high school stereotypes. However, the modern twists given to these otherwise familiar stories kept them just interesting enough to not lose me. There are also many intertwining characters and story-lines, which unfortunately means that there simply is not enough time to give every character a satisfying ending. Some characters come full circle (Jennifer Garner, Adam Sandler), while some are simply forgotten (Travis Tope).

From a film-making standpoint, this film is beautiful. Graphics and typography are seamlessly edited in with the actors to merge the images of human and technology. The cinematography often features crystal clear close-ups, and the music supplied by English music producer Bibio combine to create a film that is visual and auditory bliss, cheesy writing or not. If it were up to me, Men, Women & Children would absolutely be nominated for a Best Editing oscar.

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This film begins with one of the most beautiful opening sequences I’ve seen in a movie theater: the Voyager satellite hurdling through space. As the narrator (Emma Thompson) explains, the Voyager is filled with music, greetings in different languages, and other symbols of our humanity. If, somehow, any form of intelligent life in space manages to capture Voyager, they will have a glimpse into what life on Earth is like. Voyager is occasionally cut to throughout the film, and the film ends with the famous pale blue dot picture that Voyager took just before leaving the solar system. This is what Men, Women & Children really is: a snapshot of human life. It is not condemnation or approval. It’s just us, how we are at this moment in time. For better or for worse.

4.5/5

Written by Brandon Sodhi.

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