Reitman film mired in cliches about family values

USC alumnus and film director Jason Reitman confronts the disadvantages of a technology-obsessed world for relationships in his new movie, Men, Women & Children, starring big Hollywood names Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner and Ansel Elgort.

Best known for his successful 2007 film Juno, Reitman tackles several issues common among teens and parents in today’s tech-savvy world, including anorexia, the effects of divorce on couples and children, and sexless marriage in his newest project. The film, a cinematic adaption of Chad Kultgen’s 2011 novel, skillfully interconnects the lives of the characters with a keen appreciation of the generational differences between the teenagers and their parents.

The film begins with a view of the Voyager 1 spacecraft and the condescending yet comical commentary given by Emma Thompson about the insignificance of human beings in the universe. A film dedicated to Reitman’s theory of contemporary American behavior — that is, the overwhelming obsession with the Internet and smartphones — Men, Women & Children also places a strong emphasis on porn and what can happen when the World Wide Web makes it easily accessible for both teenagers and adults. Bored and bearded Don Truby (Adam Sandler) is secretly addicted to porn, while his wife Helen (Rosemarie DeWitt) loses interest in her husband but cautiously seeks to fulfill her sexual desires through a site for finding partners for affairs. We also see their 15-year-old son Chris (Travis Tope) struggling with the consequences of porn addiction, as he is incapable of experiencing sexual arousal through real life.

The main theme, of course, is how conflict is created by the influence of technology. Yes, there is the cliché mass crowd scene where everyone in the high school hallways is on his or her phone (sounds like an anti-cyberbullying video, no?). And yes, viewers get to see the consequences of video game addiction through Ansel Elgort’s somewhat refreshing character Tim, who deals with his mother’s abandonment by “escaping from reality” into the cyber world of Guild Wars. It doesn’t stop there, though. There is also a young girl struggling with anorexia and a mother (Jennifer Garner) who is obsessed with protecting her daughter from the dangers of the Internet. Though some of these stories have a predictable ending, others actually have some surprises. But overall, the audience gets a story, perhaps due to the seriousness and significance of the moral, that has been told several times already.

There is one profound and necessary motif that is included in the film that saves it from being completely mired in cliché, however. Reitman makes an interesting point about the way parents approach sex compared to their teenage kids. The adults, afraid of confronting the issue at hand, avoid the subject altogether. On the other hand, the audience sees a boy willing to initiate sexual relations with a teen girl suffering from anorexia, but later treats this matter very indifferently. This encounter with the boy has severe health and emotional consequences for insecure Allison (Elena Kampouris), again reinforcing the notion that the abuse of technological connectivity is unhealthy.

Reitman maintains a cool tone throughout the picture as he unifies the numerous storylines to intersect at a moment where the characters create direct connections, mostly romantically, which we can see in the sweet relationship of Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Tim.

Despite the cliché aspects of the film, it remains meaningful and creates opportunities for person-to-person conversation about its theme and conflicts. The purpose of the film seems to be to demonstrate both the bad choices that the teens and adults make, as well as show the audience that their intentions were rooted in their need for authentic human connection.

Men, Women & Children certainly succeeded in its goal to inform viewers of the importance of unplugging from technology from time to time to focus on what’s truly important in life: relationships with family and friends. The picture just barely avoids being another after school special by empathizing with its many diverse characters and taking a less judgmental approach to the subject matter. The cast of this film was definitely brilliantly chosen, as they clearly put on fantastic performances. Though the film cannot possibly cover and indeed does not cover all grounds of the negative consequences of a technology-dependent world (there is no obvious plot for the psychological results of cyber-bullying) it tackles some issues that are worthwhile to think about as the world becomes more and more reliant on technology. With its precise depiction of problems that people the present day face, Men, Women & Children can be seen as a picture that is a snapshot of this very moment but most likely will look quite strange and inaccurate within a few years from now.