Men, Women & Children, dir Jason Reitman (2014)
I’d like to preface my review by saying that I am a Chinese, queer male—so perhaps you can already sense where I’m going with this.
Reitman is a capable director, it’s evident through films like Juno and Up in the Air. Men, Women & Children opens with a shot of the Spacecraft Voyager drifting through space; a capsule, an archive of human history waiting to be discovered; the earth is nothing but a “Pale, Blue Dot,” as Carl Sagan once said. It’s a promising start, and a profound allegory of the human desire to connect, despite our microscopic existence in this galaxy, this grand universe. In the Internet age this couldn’t be truer and more prevalent. Our communication with each other has simultaneously proliferated, fragmented, become more menacing, more accessible, and all together confounding—but as with all burgeoning technologies, the Internet is a discourse that can be navigated, examined, and understood to an extent. And the number of lives on exhibition in this film, of men, women, and yes, children, are a precautionary tale of the effects and implications the digital age has had on our sexual lives and personal relationships. The Internet is still considered somewhat of a new frontier for parents and adolescents alike; how to monitor, and indeed, if we should monitor, our child’s behaviour on social networks and communities is a notable theme; as adults, how we engage in sexual expression, and the exploitation of others’ sexual expression is ruminated; and the unhealthy ideologies in pornography and its accessibility online to kids.
In writing, it’s all pretty compelling stuff, especially when these Internet themes complement and act as a conduit for the ensemble’s own particular backgrounds: a girl who is dealing with eating disorders, a boy who’s mom recently ran off, a couple dissatisfied with their marriage, etc, etc. On screen, Reitman implements an interesting visual barrage of messages and photos, to represent the instant and constant inundation of information we’re receiving on our tiny mobile phones. As an intended effect, our eyes sometimes don’t know where to look or what to read. For much of the duration of the film, the tactic remains useful; it captures a glimpse of what we type, where we type it, when we type it, and how we react to what we read.
Except, as with most screenplays dealing with a sizeable number of story lines and intersecting characters, the plot falls and rises and loses its momentum; everything seems to culminate at once and we aren’t given enough time to fully conceptualize and comprehend the experiences and nuances of each situation. In Men, Women & Children, the melodrama intensifies, but doesn’t elicit sympathy (at least not from me), because it seems almost propaganda-like in its distorted portrayal of a dystopian Internet age that has broken up just about every relationship that was in tact at the beginning of the film. While that certainly drives home the point, each character (some without a proper resolution at all) loses most of the intrigue of their initial premise, because of how flatly most of them are developed. Despite this, Ansel Elgort is a standout performance from a tremendous cast whose members all do very well in their respective roles.
Having said all of this, having seen this multicoloured (and might I add wonderfully designed) poster, I wonder how many readers might have imagined this large group of characters, all in all at least more than 8 men, women, and children, to be all white, abled, heterosexual, and middle-class? Now, before you roll your eyes and ask, why does this specific film have to go under this “social justice” scrutiny/bullshit (whichever you prefer), it’s a valid question to ask of any critic. Many films, if not all of the films I saw at the film festival this year, are about white, abled, heterosexual, and middle-class people. And Men, Women & Children is a film adapted from a novel of the same name.
When you use this collective term of “we” and “us”, and have an overarching story about the universe and the human race, it is absolutely, grossly irresponsible to not represent at least in some small way, the beautiful diversity of our planet. As a filmmaker, you are at liberty to reinterpret whatever was in those pages to be more inclusive, otherwise it is hard not to believe that you stand for the contrary. If you are honestly told that you can not include those different relationships, then I wouldn’t see any reason to do a film of such a grand narrative scale, at all. I find it hard to believe that a film revolving a community of people from the same area, couldn’t fathom that LGBTQ persons or people of other races, would interact with each other, let alone exist. It’s 2014.
Please appropriately rename your film as White, Abled, Heterosexual, Men, Women & Children. Thank you. (By the way, how misleading is this poster; they’re all white actors so how convenient is it that this poster is a muddle of blue, green, red, and purple people.)
FILMS IN 2014 for quick reviews and ratings of films, as I watch them!