Tagged: Jason Reitman

Review – Men, Women & Children (2014)

Director: Jason Reitman

Starring: Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Judy Greer, Dean Norris, Ansel Elgort, Kaitlyn Dever, Olivia Crocicchia, Elena Kampouris, Emma Thompson

Men, Women & ChildrenUnplug your computers and throw away your phones because the internet is destroying white, middle-class existence as we know it. That seems to be the take home from writer-director Jason Reitman’s latest film, the off-puttingly alarmist Men, Women & Children.

Based on the novel of the same name by Chad Kultgen, Men, Women & Children is a movie about the way we live today, navigating both real life and an online existence with the latter increasingly impacting on the former. The film is an ensemble piece centred on the personal melodramas of the teens and parents of East Vista Texas High School in Austin, with each narrative strand introducing a different digital concern to be considered. Chris is a fifteen year old whose addiction to internet pornography has warped his perceptions of physical intimacy. Tim was a star high school athlete who reacted to his parents’ divorce by quitting football and immersing himself in online role-play games. Allison’s eating disorder and body image problems are encouraged by her connection to ‘pro-ana’ forums. Hannah’s quest for fame sees her uploading inappropriate images of herself for consumption by her ‘fans.’ Then you have the challenges of parenting in the digital era. Some parents are ignorant, some are enablers, some are militantly over-protective, like Brandy’s mother who insists on weekly spot-checks of her social media profiles and internet search history as well as screening all of her incoming and outgoing text and instant messages.

These cautionary tales raise some valid concerns. We do live in a world in which we seem to be at once more connected than ever before and yet more isolated from those around us. We can reach each other instantly, but seem incapable of genuine communication. We are in danger of becoming so overstimulated that we become numb to human intimacy. However, none of these messages are startlingly new. Despite its alarmist tone, this movie is not quite as shocking or revealing as it might have been eight years ago when social media was in its infancy.

A sea of faces absorbed in screens

A sea of faces absorbed in screens

What is missing from Men, Women & Children’s discussion is any form of counter-argument, any acknowledgement of positive impacts of social media and digital connectivity rather than just the damaging effects. The closest the film comes to this is when Brandy confesses to Tim that she has a secret Tumblr account which she feels is the only place where she can really express herself free from her controlling mother. Instead, Men, Women & Children feels like it is written by an outsider, someone with little direct experience of online community and connectivity who is simply frustrated by the sight of people engrossed in their screens. Given Reitman is only 37 years old, you would expect him to be more familiar with the world of social media than this often simplistic film gives the impression that he is.

Reitman seeks to give his exploration a grand, cosmic significance through an incredibly forced narration from Emma Thomson. This odd, uneasy framing device contrasts the events of the film with Voyager 1’s thirty year journey to the very extremes of our solar system and beyond. Apparently this contrast is intended to provide some perspective in the film, whether by drawing our attention to our own cosmic insignificance or by comparing the heights of technological achievement with the depths of what we now use it for. However, it just manages to feel awkward.

The deep, ensemble cast features some strong performances, particularly from some of the lesser known adolescent actors, but mostly the cast members are struggling to flesh out characters who are little more than thinly drawn caricatures. As such, Men, Women & Children becomes a film which you engage with on an intellectual level more so than an emotional one. The only plotline which seems to really hit an emotional chord is the budding romance between Brandy and Tim who, when together, actually appear to be genuine people.

The way technology has changed and continues to change human interaction and relationships is an area ripe for cinematic exploration, but it requires more nuance than the preachy and heavy-handed Men, Women & Children is willing to offer.

Rating: ★★

Review by Duncan McLean

Have you seen Men, Women & Children? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.

 

 

Review – Labor Day (2013)

Director: Jason Reitman

Starring: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith

Labor DayTold through the eyes of the 13 year old Henry, Labor Day is the story of a five day love affair that took place on the Labor Day long weekend of 1987 between his mother, Adele, and a fugitive who sought refuge in their home, Frank. Crippled by her depression and anxiety, Adele rarely ventures outside. On their monthly shopping trip for supplies, they are accosted by a wounded Frank, who demands they take him back to their home so he can hide until nightfall. With his wound not allowing him to leave as soon as planned, Frank sets about making himself useful by performing the household duties that haven’t been seen to since Adele’s husband walked out. A bond is formed between them and, for a fleeting moment, the family feels whole again.

Labor Day is a movie which doesn’t manage to live up to its early promise and represents the first real misstep in the career of talented writer-director Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air). While it is based on a novel by Joyce Maynard, the schmaltz gets dialled up so high you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching another Nicholas Sparks adaptation – the centrepiece of the film is a palpably sensual scene reminiscent of the pottery scene in Ghost in which Frank and Adele make a peach pie together. The introduction of Frank into the lives of Adele and Henry creates an intriguing situation, but the story that unfolds is just too simplistic. While they talk as though they are aware of the seriousness of their situation, they sure don’t act like it.  If the police are combing the streets trying to find him, what is he doing up a ladder clearing out the gutters? Why do they spend so much time on the back porch or in the yard? Why don’t they at least close the curtains? That the lovers live in this dream world means that film lacks energy and because everything seems to be so easy, so convenient, the plot twists which are required in order to create drama then feel forced rather than arising naturally out of the story.

Stockholm syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages have been known to empathise with, and in extreme cases fall in love with, their captors, and if all kidnappers were as perfect as Frank it wouldn’t be hard to see why. Having just escaped from a lengthy prison stay he has no issues relating to people, even complex and sensitive people like Adele, Henry and their disabled neighbour Barry. He easily steps into the routine of normal life, cooking up a meal for the family on his first night with them. With his handyman skills and wealth of wisdom he becomes a substitute father and husband overnight. Despite the fact he is convicted of murderer – don’t worry, that gets explained – not for one moment do we think he is going to hurt either of them. Were his character just slightly more complicated it would have gone a long way to helping the film become something quite interesting.

Kate Winslet is magnificent as always, creating a believable and sincere character in Adele. Josh Brolin does well considering the limitations of his character, and the two make for a pleasing pairing. Ultimately, however, this is a film which you are either going to go with or you aren’t. Labor Day is a sweet little love story about two people who have been living in their own prisons and find freedom in each other, but to really enjoy it requires a willingness to overlook more than a few faults.

Rating – ★★☆

Review by Duncan McLean