Tagged: Jennifer Garner

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 – Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Denis O’Hare, Steve Zahn

Dallas Buyers ClubThe AIDS virus is a truly terrifying disease. In the 1980s, at the height of the AIDS crisis in America, that terror was compounded by a lack of knowledge and understanding of the disease. To be told you were HIV positive was tantamount to being given a death sentence. It is from this desperate context that Jean-Marc Vallée’s powerful independent film Dallas Buyers Club brings us the true story of the most unlikely of crusaders.

After a workplace accident lands him in hospital, electrician and part-time rodeo cowboy Ron Woodroof is informed that his blood tests have revealed him to be HIV positive. With the hospital participating in a trial of a new wonder drug, AZT, Ron bribes a hospital employee to sneak him the medication. When the AZT doesn’t appear to be doing the trick, he ventures across the border into Mexico where he is able to get his hands on a number of alternative treatments which have not been approved for use in the USA. Seeing an opportunity to make some money, Ron starts smuggling the unapproved medications into the country and, with the help of his transgender business partner Rayon, founds the Dallas Buyers Club, where a monthly fee gets you all the medication you need. The beauty of the Club is it keeps his hands clean. He isn’t selling drugs. He’s selling memberships. Ron quickly becomes the last hope for Dallas’s many AIDS sufferers and starts to face strong opposition from the authorities.

What differentiates Dallas Buyers Club from the standard AIDS narrative is its protagonist. Woodroof is anything but a sympathetic character. He is a whoring, drug-taking, brawling, cheating bigot. The first words we hear from him are a homophobic slander of Rock Hudson, shortly after the actor’s death from AIDS. Upon being diagnosed, Woodroof seems angrier with the doctor’s implication that he might have engaged in homosexual activity than he is about the fact that he is HIV positive. Ron is just as prejudiced against other AIDS sufferers as other people are against him. He founds the Club not out of any sense of charity or desire to help others, but out of simple opportunism. The Club presents him with the opportunity to get his medication and make some money on the side. The film’s drama comes from watching the way this degenerate is transformed by his circumstances and the people around him to the point that he can become an activist and voice for this marginalised community. Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack’s excellent screenplay makes that transition subtle while still apparent, and most importantly believable.

Sympathetic he may not be, but Ron Woodroof is engrossing and much of the credit for that has to go to the performance of Matthew McConaughey. Over the last couple of years McConaughey has gone from being a run-of-the-mill movie star hunk to one of the most interesting actors working in Hollywood and his performance here is undoubtedly the best of his career. Having lost approximately 20kgs in preparation for the role, his emaciated appearance is confronting, but Woodroof retains some of that McConaughey charisma, incorporating it into this unattractive package and keeping us hooked on him. But McConaughey doesn’t carry the film alone. His achievement is matched and maybe even exceeded by that of his co-star, Jared Leto. In his first feature film in five years, Leto is brilliant as Ron’s transgender business partner and, eventually, friend Rayon. Leto gives Rayon a real grace and sensitivity, successfully grounding a character that could so easily have been a caricature.

Dallas Buyers Club is a special film that manages to be uplifting without being sentimental and insightful without being preachy.

Rating – ★★★★

Review by Duncan McLean