Despite Men, Women, & Children chronically lapsing into the kind of melodrama that only parents who would bubble wrap their kids to keep them from getting hurt would love, this story of the internets and the interconnectedness of our daily wired lives told through the microcosm of a small Texas town represents a rebound for director Jason Reitman after the abysmal Labor Day. Then again, a blank screen is better than Labor Day, which means this is just kind of average and still not all that great.
Based on the novel by Chad Kultgen, there are overlapping tales of an unhappy married couple (Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt) looking to cheat who had a son that watches a lot of porn, a single mother (Judy Greer) who exploits her budding W.A.M.S. daughter (Olivia Crocicchia) via an inappropriate website, a young anorexic girl (Elena Kampouris) yearning for acceptance, and a depressed former football star (Ansel Elgort) who falls for a sweet girl (Kaitlyn Dever) with a psychotically overprotective mother (Jennifer Garner). Oh, it just in case you didn’t get the cognitive dissonance between being connected and disconnected from the world via the internet, there’s a framing device where Emma Thompson narrates the story and talks of Carl Sagan and our place in the universe as being infinitesimally small.
Much like most films of this genre that popped up in the wake of Crash, not every storyline is a winner, with the anorexic subplot feeling particularly sleazy, botched, and looking like it could be cut without hurting the film at all. Sandlers and DeWitt equip themselves well, but the resolution to their arc is completely unearned. The best work here by far gets put in by Elgort, who owns the film every step of the way. The film roars to life whenever he’s on screen, and that storyline easily becomes the most captivating element. So much so that you’ll wish the whole film was just about him. The rest of it will probably only appeal to parents and old folks who think the internet is a cold dark place where everyone wants to hurt everyone else.
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