MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN is set in Austin, Texas, and tells the intersecting stories of a group of parents and their teenage children. The adults feel separated from their kids, the kids mostly ignore their parents and try to make connections with each other on-line or via their ‘phones. The adults feel disconnected from each other, too. Unable to maintain an intimate relationship, some look for extra-marital affairs on Ashley Madison.com, others pay for an escort for the night. One of the kids has seen so much porn online, but hasn’t had sex yet in Real Life and that scares him. Another looks to the Internet for support to maintain her eating disorder. Everyone has a secret and everyone is telling lies to keep their fears and desires hidden from their loved ones.
The audience is given access to these secrets through slick graphics representing what is being typed or received at any moment. These furtive messages are flung out into cyber space where only you, me, and the NSA can see them. So we are given the voyeuristic thrill of seeing strangers attempt to hook-up through text. When a texter is waiting for a reply, we see those three dots pulsing on their ‘phone screen, as well as their expectant expression, all at the same time. This is the movie’s heartbeat and stream of consciousness. The audience is seamlessly placed with the character and their thoughts as the communication unfolds. Will I get an answer tonight? Did I type the wrong thing? What impression did that last text make? There must be very few in the audience who don’t know what this feels like.
Director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson have adapted Chad Kultgen’s novel into a movie about love, sex and desire. The theme of thwarted intimacy runs underneath everything. Although this movie has been understood by some as being anti-technology, I don’t believe it’s necessarily about the way social media, smart phones and computers are tearing families apart. Yes, people do use their personal tech to detach from what is around them, but before we ignored each other with our iPhones, we cut ourselves off from our loved ones at the breakfast table by reading a newspaper. The point is that we need to be loved and paradoxically we find ways to screw that up.
The movie has not received too much love from movie critics elsewhere. Your current reviewer is climbing far out on a limb to declare this film a good watch. It has parallels with the themes and subjects in AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999) and PALO ALTO (2013) and I found the performances solid and engaging. Some of the adults like Judy Greer and Dean Norris have moments where they get to do things we haven’t seen them do previously and that is a pleasure to witness. The actors who play the teens are uniformly excellent.
MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN investigates how we are driven by desire and crippled by fear. It is in Australian cinemas currently and has a running time of 119 minutes. I give it a rating of 8/10.