You only need to ride the tube in London to appreciate quite how prevalent technology and social media are in contemporary society. Engulfed in our phones – retweeting, sharing, liking and favouriting our way through the day. It’s ripe territory for a filmmaker to explore; to examine the culture that exists, and it’s one without age restriction, as teenagers can be just as obsessed as their parents in many cases. It’s a notion we study in Jason Reitman’s Men, Women and Children – yet unfortunately, unlike any truly accomplished satire, this struggles to neither educate nor entertain.
Effectively, the principal theme in this drama, is sex, and our ever-changing relationship with it through new technology. We studiously peer into the lives of parents and their children, all within one community. We have young lovers Tim (Ansel Elgort) and Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever), the latter’s overly protective mother (Jennifer Garner) to the dangerously liberal Joan (Judy Greer), the mother of Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia), who herself wants to have intercourse with Chris (Travis Tope), whose own parents, Don (Adam Sandler) and Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) are struggling through a loveless marriage, and seeking excitement elsewhere.
Pictures of this ilk are set up in such a way that we’re supposed to emotionally invest in the tale, find a character or situation to identify with and relate to – that’s the sign of a good satire. Yet the vast array of characters are mostly unsympathetic and at times, deplorable. Of course Reitman is offering a heightened take on reality: exaggerating for cinematic effect – but as such loses sight of the intimacy and idiosyncrasies of the protagonists. What also doesn’t help in this regard is the ensemble approach, not allowing us to get to know any character in particular; instead carelessly floating around, like a sort of omniscient presence, which leads only to a palpable disconnect.
On the other hand, it is intriguing to see how both adults and children are portrayed in a similar light. No sides are taken in this piece, we see the world from both the perspective of the teenagers and their parents, and examining the flaws in both. As such it embellishes this notion of a perpetual naivety, where regardless of whether you’re 18 or 45, you’re still as unwise to love, sex and relationships as you ever have been. That’s certainly an interesting theme to see explored, but the problem for Reitman, is that it’s essentially the only one.