Men, Women, and Children (Jason Reitman, 2014) – Jason Reitman is a tough director to pin down. He clearly wants to be taken seriously and often attempts to dive into dark subject matter. Yet, he’s also a crowd-pleaser who tugs on emotions manipulatively and craves populist response/box office. So that leads to muddled movies from the director, and Men, Women, and Children might be his most muddled to date.
The film is a harshly comedic look at the way the world has become disconnected in the digital age. It presents images of crowds with everyone staring blankly into their phones rather than communicating with anyone around them and the kaleidoscope of stories in the plot offers more of the same. Adam Sandler plays a sad porn obsessed man who is so desperate to fulfill his needs that he explores the world of online escorts, while his wife Rosemarie DeWitt dabbles on AshleyMadison.com (their son has been so numbed by porn since 10 that he has a hard time connecting with real girls). Then there’s Jennifer Garner as such an overprotective mother that she reads absolutely every text, email, and keystroke that her daughter makes online. Judy Greer plays a failed actress trying to get her daughter a leg up in showbiz with a vaguely adult website. And on top of that, there are other plots involving suicide, miscarriages, eating disorders, divorce, depression, violence, and nihilistic philosophy. You know, all of the classic comedy elements.
Reitman is clearly going after the tone of a film like Todd Solondz’s Happiness, which presents suburban life as a secret chamber for all of society’s horrors. His comedy is caustic and harsh, able to slip into straight drama at any second. It’s a movie that wants to shock and move viewers in addition to making them laugh. It’s also an attempt to capture the pain in the world in the digital age. All of this is supposed to happen in two hours and it’s safe to say the movie sags under the weight of ambition. About 50% of it works and even works well, while the other 50% is either overcooked with intent or under-served by the running time. It’s a movie that should have been far more reigned in and focused to make the intended impact (I haven’t even mentioned the CGI wrap-around involving a satellite at the edge of the galaxy narrated by Emma Thompson), yet it’s also oddly compelling its wildly overreaching ways.
There’s some searing stuff here, suggesting a level of satire and insight that Reitman never seemed capable before as well as mountains of irritatingly maudlin material gluing it together. The performances are often terrific, even if some characters are underused. Overall, Men, Women, And Children is a bit of a mess with intriguing moments. Maybe the script was a draft away from coming together or maybe it was overwritten a draft or two too far. Either way, Men, Women, and Children is far from the film that Reitman was aiming for. Fortunately, that’s not the same thing as being a horrible movie. But it’s close.
Men, Women, And Children debuts on Blu-Ray in a package that was clearly put together long before the movie’s tepid critical and box office reception. The video and audio transfer is certainly pretty, even though the dialogue-driven ensemble piece isn’t exactly filled with impressive set pieces to show off the potential of HD. A pair of brief featurettes show Reitman and his cast excitedly discussing the potential of the film, unaware of the big sigh that would accompany its release. Finally, a hefty collection of deleted scenes is included, which features an entire axed storyline. Unfortunately there aren’t any movie saving gems there. All of the scenes were removed for a reason and if you didn’t like what made it in the final film, you certainly won’t be longing to see the footage that wasn’t fit for the final cut. This is a mediocre Blu-Ray release of a mediocre movie and I suppose that’s entirely appropriate. You’ll get what you pay for.