At this year’s Festival, perennial favourite Jason Reitman showed his loyalty to TIFF by choosing to grant them the World Premiere of his latest film Men, Women & Children. Packed with an all-star cast, the film takes a topical and timely look at how technology is affecting our relationships with each other and how we interact with the world around us. While certainly not Reitman’s best film, it’s still an enjoyable and intriguing film that presents some engaging questions about where we are heading as a society that is addicted to instant connection.
The film follows a group of teenagers (Ansel Elgort, Kaitlyn Deaver, Elena Kampouris, and Olivia Crocicchia among others) and their parents (Adam Sandler, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, Dean Norris, and J.K. Simmons) as they struggle to understand the way the internet, cell phones, and computers have changed their relationships and the way they interact with others. Parallel storylines come together in a dream-like collision of teenagers yearning for privacy while they try to navigate the confusing journey towards adulthood and parents just trying to do what they think is right to protect their children in this confusing new world.
This film appears to be having a polarizing affect on audiences. For some it’s a sloppy mess that is just the latest in a sustained string of misfires from Reitman, but for others it’s a nuanced and emotional social commentary about the world we are now facing. At times it certainly does feel like the director is trying to force together an uncoordinated amalgamation of similar plotlines due to the juggling of so many characters at once but once it finds its footing and we start to see the character arcs take shape, the cohesion begins to solidify and we find ourselves with a potent film that allows us to see bits of ourselves in all of these people.
With such a large cast, it can be difficult to distinguish each storyline as unique. However, several acting performances were more noticeable than others. Ansel Elgort and Kaitlyn Deaver together is one of the more notable standouts on screen. As their characters find each other, their relationship builds with authenticity to an emotional climax reflective of the consequences of the parents’ actions. Deaver in particular continues her sparkling rise as an actor to watch as she continues to impress in every role she chooses.
Emma Thomson occasionally narrates the story with a decidedly authoritative voice. The juxtaposition of her British accent with the tawdry subject matter allows us to find humour in an otherwise serious setting. Adam Sandler in a dramatic role again is a refreshing change for him but his role in this film is not large enough to allow him to properly exercise his acting abilities. We know he is capable of very fine performances but unfortunately we only catch glimpses of that here.
One of the villainous roles in the film comes from Jennifer Garner as a concerned mother. In an effort to protect her daughter, she becomes overbearing and suffocating. The character is effective in its purpose but often comes across as flat and singular. There comes a moment when we see a nice progression to her story arc at a crucial moment in the film where she realizes the implications of what she has done.
This is a film about the need we all have as humans to find meaningful relationships, about longing for that lost touch that helped us fall in love with the one, remembering what’s important in life, and trying to find these missing pieces. We may be surrounded by people everywhere we turn but as we become more connected online, we find ourselves living in a solitary world where it’s easy to forget where true happiness lies.