Men, Women & Children intertwines between multiple small plot-lines to bring us a film that is essentially just social commentary, but a good one at that. There's the story of Don Truby (Adam Sandler) who's marriage doesn't have that spark it used to, and so, through the internet, he decides to hire a prostitute. Then there's the story of Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever), a young woman with a mother (Jennifer Garner) who checks in on everything she does online. There's also Tim (Ansel Elgort), a young ex-footballer who's recently quit and gained an addiction to online gaming. There's the story of Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia), a young woman trying to pursue a career of acting. And finally, there's Allison (Elena Kampouris), a young girl who's attempting to starve herself to become skinny, making her look appealing.
Men, Women & Children is Jason Reitman's second film to come out this year, and his most hated film yet. This marks his sixth feature film and while the first four have all been critically acclaimed, his latest two films haven't been as praised. While there were a few who found his last film, Labor Day, to simply be okay, I found it dull and uninteresting. Now we have Men, Women & Children and the general consensus seems to be that it's pretty dull, despite having some damn awesome trailers. To be honest, I enjoyed it. It's flawed for sure, and these flaws I will delve into soon, but it's an honest, relatable and powerful movie that's more than worthy of slotting into Jason Reitman's (mostly) brilliant filmography.
The film's strongest suit is its performances. There's quite a large cast presented in this film, although there's not one performance that seems to drag the film down. Ansel Elgort, who's literally been good in every film of his so far, is utterly brilliant as Tim, although his character is not one to come across as overly-sporty, but maybe he was different prior to the events of this film. I'll just try to think that way. Jennifer Garner, who I've previously stated I liked when she's not playing Elektra, also gives a great performance as the caring, if not somewhat psychotic mother Brandy. And the final note-worthy cast member is Adam Sandler, who, like Garner, I've previously stated I liked when he's not doing comedies. While not his best, his performance is still superior to anything he's done in any comedy ever.
Men, Women & Children has a lot to say about everyone, but it unfortunately only gets some of this across. While Jason Reitman clearly wants to tell us something, and he does point out a lot, he's never given a chance to win us over with his issues about society. His makes them notable, but he fails to do anything beyond that. I'm not having a go at his directing, nor his writing, but just the lack of solution. He lets us know what's wrong with the world in an entertaining and occasionally funny way, even if it's not nearly as funny as some of his other works. Reitman wants to talk, but when given the stage he's lost for words.
If there's one thing you'll notice common amongst all of Reitman's films it's that he loves him some voice over. I've seen all of his films thus far, take away Young Adult, and in all of them the most frequent commonality is the narration. He loves it, he uses it, and he, or so I used to think, uses it well. In all of his previous films it appeared to work. It suited them all. Here, not so much. Men, Women & Children doesn't need narration to tell its story, yet he uses it anyway and it's used poorly. It can occasionally provide some metaphorical ideas, but it feels so out of place, particularly when the narrator is Emma Thompson.
With so many stories to tell, the two hour runtime isn't nearly enough time to successfully wrap them all up. I'm not saying I wanted this film to be any longer than it was, but instead I'm saying that the film feels a little bloated. Like I said, he's trying to tell us something, but he just can't. This is, in part, because of how many stories he's telling. He's attempting to cover so much ground that when it's time to come up with a conclusion, they're underwhelming. Some are satisfying, although these are the ones with more screen time dedicated to them. The rest, such as the malnutrition story, just end rather dissatisfying.
Lame endings aside, the journey there follows a fairly predictable path too. Once we've had a little taste of things and the characters have been set up, their many problems included, the film goes down a path we've walked along oh so many times. It plays it safe, but it works, despite feeling somewhat conventional. There's a small bump here and there, but nothing to make you go "Wow, I really did not see that coming!" The only real perk to this conventionalism is that the characters already feel set up. They feel like old friends and because of that, I found them easier to connect with. Is that weird? That's probably weird.
To sum up, I may have sounded fairly harsh, but I did actually enjoy Men, Women & Children. It's flawed, but it's fun. It's a social commentary done right, even if the narration is out of place, the endings are underwhelming and the stories are predictable.