Monday, October 20, 2014

Men, Women & Children (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Men, Women & Children

Jason Reitman (Up in the Air) is known for his heartfelt family portraits. His visuals are crisp and his situations are usually pointed and interesting. In his latest "Men, Women & Children," he tackles the ubiquity of smartphone text technology and its blight on suburban American families.

The film is visually striking with cinematography worthy of  "Gravity." The first shot of a NASA satellite approaching the edge of Saturn is stunning with each ring filling the screen. Provocative as well, is the matter of fact voiceover by Emma Thompson in the style of Epcot.

Plot wise however, we have a spineless assortment of characters that do a lot of mumbling and staring into various mobile devices. Adam Sandler  is Don, an unhappy father addicted to the idea of escorts and porn. Jennifer Gardner is an uptight mother from another family who watches her daughter's every move online with the mania of a religious zealot. Ansel Elgort (The Fault in Our Stars) is Tim, a disaffected football prodigy who is addicted to role playing games, while Judy Greer plays a dominant mom who pushes her daughter (Olivia Crocicchia) into Internet soft porn to achieve fame.

Out of the many characters, only Tim shows any tension or intrigue. Tim's nihilism and cosmic existentialism would be of interest if only the role (not to mention the others) had been fleshed out beyond stock characters like petty high schoolers behaving in petty selfishness.

We get it. Kids and their parents can be spaced out, isolated and rotten. This seems universal and well travelled cinematic terrain, which could be revisited, if the film had gone to intriguing places.

It doesn't.

Adam Sandler is a monotone blob of mayonaisse and his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) is predictably bothered and passive, until she joins an online dating service.

Much of the lithium melodrama goes on an even path with all of these young Caucasians getting into some gossipy Facebook dilemmas. What we see has been hunted and pecked at before, from the films "Palo Alto" and "Disconnect," with tones and emotions that are hacked from more refreshing ensemble films like "Short Cuts" and "Crash".

Every incident here seems stuck in retrograde. Not a single character has enough spunk for the audience to care, no role is mean, acidic, or all that terribly sad to illustrate  any sensory drama. In this story, all monitors display a gray "meh" of content.

A highlight is the slick cinematography by Eric Steelberg who depicts a teen's long nails as touchstones on a smartphone's glittering keyboard and the wood veneer of a door overwhelms our field of vision, analogous to Saturn's spacey, cappuccino-colored rings.

Men, Women & Children" cries out for some iconoclastic narrative in the manner of  a John Waters or a Michael Haneke. The perils of technology and its transformations in  our self expression are profound and worth talking about. But with such Saltine-driven people, it grows difficult to care.

One exception occurs when the voice of Emma Thompson intones about bondage, domination and the moment of orgasm in such prim and proper flat tones as if she were discussing the weather. Perhaps in time, this one weird moment will achieve a cult status.

Write Ian at

No comments: