Thursday 9 October 2014

Men, Women & Children (2014) - Jason Reitman

Reitman has made a career of making quirky comedy films out of normal life.  Men, Women & Children doesn’t quite have the same charm as his past material (Juno, for instance), but this is a relatable, if downbeat, work.

The director presents us with a multi-narrative meditation on social media in our technological world and its effects on relationships.  Think Love Actually for cool kids.  The film poses a number of questions: does the Internet help or hinder human relationships – parenting in particular?  Children may be more technically literate, but can they be trusted online?  Are adults really morally superior?

The various narrative strands are all fairly familiar – marital issues, teenage rebellion – but Reitman gives them a contemporary twist with the use of technology.  Overbearing parents can use technology to spy on their children in the name of protection.  Porn can give adults and children alike the wrong view of sex – online fantasies are just that.  The Internet can be a dangerous place of secrets and lies; a fragile world that’s easily misunderstood; a realm of truth.  Video games, too, can provide escapism from the perils of real life.  But how does the online world interfere with the real world?  Does it allow for, or prevent, real human interaction?  Can it be trusted or used responsibly?

Mostly this is a film about image – whether it be honest, or a façade.  Reitman questions, are we all just avatars in our own virtual worlds?

The same could be said of the characters.  As with many films of this structure, the narrative is perhaps spread too thinly over a large cast who act superbly despite a lack of depth in the script.  Individually, they boil down to a metaphor, a warning sign.  Collectively, they provide a snapshot of our modern world.

As such, the film touches on numerous themes and issues, but ultimately Men, Women & Children is a film about the need for human intimacy, however that may be achieved.  As Emma Thompson’s cosmic voiceover implies, we are all just lonely specks in the universe.  However cold the cast of characters may seem, the need for communication is the basis of humanity – a lofty and ambitious theory that the film conveys with a lack of subtlety.

What is well achieved is the integration of technology into the film’s visual style: from small details like using autocorrect when the film’s title appears, to instant messaging amusingly providing subtext to conversations.  The film screen is literally our personal desktop.  Reitman certainly captures on-screen the business of our technological world, something that’s reflected in the pulsing, electronic soundtrack.

What he doesn’t do is provide the answers to his questions.  As such, this isn’t the upbeat comedy you might expect, but a thought-provoking film that will have you questioning your reliance on technology.

And the first thing I subconsciously did when I left the cinema?  Check my phone.


Watch: Men, Women & Children screens at the London Film Festival, with general release on 28th November in the UK.