In this modern age, we often talk about how technology has strengthened our bonds with our fellow man, but also how it has made us even more alone. While this is often addressed during dinner parties as light conversation, there aren’t as many movies that tackle it as their main subject. Now we have “Men, Women & Children,” a film that tries to tackle the issue of our dependence on technology by looking at the lives of several high school students, their parents, and their relationships with others. Overall, it’s a good film, if not a little cluttered and cliché. The movie definitely speaks to a lot of the problems that people, both young and old, have with our dependency on social technology, but the film’s plot lacked sufficient focus to convey its message effectively.
The main focus of the film is split between Don Truby (Adam Sandler) and his wife Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt), and a romance between students Tim Mooney (Elgort) and Brandy Beltmeyer (Kaitlyn Dever) who have to contend with Brandy’s mother Patricia (Jennifer Garner) and her constant monitoring of Brandy’s social media interactions. The plot with Don and Rachel boils down to this: neither of them are happy with their marriage, and so they separately decide to have affairs; Rachel meets strangers through an online dating site, and Don hires an escort online. In Tim and Brandy’s story, Tim’s mother has recently divorced his father, Kent (Dean Norris), and moved to California with another man; as a result of learning this, Tim quits football and comes decides that nothing in life matters. He takes comfort in spending time playing an online video game and hanging out with Brandy. In addition to these plots, there’s also a popular girl named Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia) who tries to seduce classmate and porn addict Chris Truby (Travis Tope) while also trying to start an acting career. Allison (Elena Kampouris) starves herself in order to get the attention of a guy she has a crush on, and Tim’s father Kent tries to move on from his failed marriage by dating Hannah’s mother, Joan (Judy Greer).
Does that seem like a cluttered synopsis? It makes for just as cluttered a film. To be honest, there is little that connects these plots thematically except for the technology involved. They all take place in the same town, but only a couple of these plots intersect. The subplot involving Allison seems tacked on and not fully developed, and Hannah’s story sometimes disappears entirely for a while before suddenly reemerging. The two previously mentioned main plots are the most developed, but the subplots are decent enough, serving to show the different ways that technology can affect people’s lives.
The actors in this film do a good job, but some of them are pretty replaceable. For example, Adam Sandler’s character could’ve been played by anyone. He wasn’t as bad as I thought he was going to be, and actually had some pretty good moments. He could actually be pretty reserved in some scenes, and he even had some small comedic moments. But these are comedic moments and reserved scenes that anyone could have done; it didn’t have to be Adam Sandler. Jennifer Garner is great as the overprotective Patricia, really showing how far she is willing to go to keep her daughter safe from all of the “dangers” that are on social media and the Internet in general. The teens in this movie do a pretty good job, especially Elgort and Dever. They really show the problems that their characters are going through well and even have some touching moments thrown in for good measure. The rest of the actors fall into the same category: decent, but not spectacular.
The film’s message seems to get a little lost in the clichés of teen drama, and at some points, this film felt like something out of a typical teen TV show. There’s the plot about the girl who starves herself to lose weight, the popular girl who wants to lose her virginity, the football star with a heart of gold and the loner girl he falls for. We’ve all seen these characters a million times over, but the thing that makes them interesting is the way technology changes them and their relationships. The message of the film isn’t that technology is completely bad; it’s just saying that technology is changing us, and in some ways it’s good, and in other ways, it’s not so good. There are definitely moments and character traits that show this, such as how Brandy has a tumblr account that her mother doesn’t know about, and this is the only place she feels she can be herself, or how Tim plays an online game with people around the world to get his mind off of the fact that his mother doesn’t want anything to do with him or his father anymore. Things like that serve the message of the film quite well, and there are definitely other moments like that that bring the movie up a few notches. There are also moments when the film will cut to the Voyager spacecraft floating through space as a narrator talks about how tiny the world is in the grand scheme of things, as a way of making the film’s message seem larger. It sometimes works, like in the beginning, where the narrator is talking about the records that are on the Voyager spacecraft and then starts talking about Don Truby (Sandler) looking up porn on his computer. That was a pretty funny moment, and one of the film’s highlights.
All in all, is “Men, Women & Children” a bad film? Not at all. It’s enjoyable, had some good laughs, and even managed to have some dramatic and touching moments here and there. It just so happens that there are some things about it that make it a little cluttered; too many plots competing for screen time, actors who do well, but who are ultimately replaceable, and a message that, while timely, gets a little overshadowed by some of the typical teen drama that we’ve seen a million times in movies and TV.
By Joey Sack