Men, Women & Children

Posted by Joel Copling on October 14, 2014

Sex and modern technology make up the collective prism through which we view the characters of "Men, Women & Children." For here we have married couple Don and Helen Truby (Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt), each of whom has bored the other with his or her aversion to a sex life; Don has, for years, turned to the comfort of a computer screen and a Kleenex box to reconcile, while Helen searches for a compatible soul on an adult-themed dating site. Their son Chris (Travis Tope) has inherited Don's comfort viewing and the real thing just doesn't compare when he decides to consummate with loud-and-proud wild-child Hannah Clint (Olivia Crocicchia); Hannah's dream to become an actress is equaled by her mother Donna's (Judy Greer) excitement that her profile website, which looks so obviously questionable it's a wonder Donna was a thinking human who made the decision to publish, is popular.

There's more from where this kind of obviousness comes: Donna's taken up romantically with the recently abandoned Kent Mooney (Dean Norris), whose son Tim (Ansel Elgort) is sporting the blows from a mother who left them and is going to re-marry; when he quits the football team of which he was the star player, his comfort becomes an MMORPG and the affections of Brandy Beltmeyer (Kaitlyn Dever), whose maddeningly over-protective mother Patricia (Jennifer Garner) tracks her every move online. Meanwhile, Allison Doss (Elena Kampouris, giving possibly the best performance of the mostly wasted cast) harbors a crush unlikely ever to be truly reciprocated and discreetly suffers from an eating disorder about which she is in full-blown denial; her connection to all this is the occasional post on a pro-anorexia website ("Try smelling the cake while eating celery," other users encourage).

Everyone in "Men, Women & Children" is Connected with Each Other and suffering from Serious Issues not far removed from the usual episode of "Degrassi" (and with approximately 15 percent the effectiveness of that highly undervalued television program); the problem is that very close to none of this is dealt with in a way that approaches the outskirts of subtlety. Erin Cressida Wilson and director Jason Reitman's screenplay (based on a book by Chad Kultgen) is irresponsible in its handling of certain characters (Don is as guilty as Helen by the end of their story, and guess who is seen as the worse of them) as it is manipulative in its attempts to redeem others (The action Patricia takes in the climax isn't likely to be forgiven the two people whom it affects, so why should we forgive her?). Eric Steelberg's lamp-lit cinematography of the Austin, Texas location shooting and Bibio's lovely score are the only sources of levity on which the molasses of melodrama that surrounds them can lean. The result is that sex and modern technology are more or less the only traits these characters are allowed to have.

Film Information

Rosemarie DeWitt (Helen Truby), Adam Sandler (Don Truby), Kaitlyn Dever (Brandy Beltmeyer), Ansel Elgort (Tim Mooney), Jennifer Garner (Patricia Beltmeyer), Judy Greer (Donna Clint), Elena Kampouris (Allison Doss), Dean Norris (Kent Mooney), Olivia Crocicchia (Hannah Clint), Travis Tope (Chris Truby), Dennis Haysbert ("Secretluvur"), J.K. Simmons (Allison's Father), Phil LaMarr (Shrink).

Directed by Jason Reitman and written by Reitman and Erin Cressida Wilson, based on the novel by Chad Kultgen.

Rated R (sexual content including graphic dialogue throughout, language).

119 minutes.

Released in select cities on October 1, 2014.