Sunday, October 5, 2014

"Men, Women & Children"

 1.5 / 5 

"In this dirty-minded world," fictional feminist Jenny Fields famously observed, "you are either someone's wife or someone's whore."  The two aren't necessarily exclusive in director Jason Reitman's wild-eyed anti-Internet screed Men, Women & Children.

The film starts in outer space, referencing Carl Sagan's "Pale Blue Dot" essay as Emma Thompson's unseen narrator explains how small and meaningless human existence really is.  Men, Women & Children starts with the really big question: Why are we here?  Then, for two hours, it offers one possible answer: because loose, sex-crazed women are a danger for all right-thinking, emotionally centered men in the world.

What's that, you say?  The answer isn't related to the question?  The filmmakers don't seem to mind that little problem.

In Men, Women & Children, one woman takes quasi-pornographic pictures of her daughter and sells them online.  A 15-year-old girl will do anything to lose her virginity to the high school's bad boy, and pays the price with the blood of her unborn child.  A prudish mother obsesses over every keystroke her daughter makes on the computer, fetishizing her concern and spending her time constructing a digital chastity belt, while desperately imploring, "You have no idea how dangerous that is," waving hysterically toward the computer.  Another woman has grown distant from her husband and realizes she can only come alive when she meets up with a stranger in a hotel and loudly exclaims how badly she needs his penis inside of her.

The men, meanwhile, may be clueless but mostly because they're trying to figure out these crazy women, who tease them and play with their emotions and cause all sorts of sexual dysfunction.  The men aren't to blame for the apathy and disconnection that is sweeping the earth, according to the movie -- they are just the victims of the women who can't keep their panties on.

Men, Women & Children might be the most staggeringly misogynistic movie yet made in the 21st century -- and I'm writing that just hours after having seen Gone Girl.

Astonishingly, a woman co-wrote the screenplay with director Jason Reitman; a woman was at least partially responsible for a movie in which 15-year-old nympomaniacs are seducing 15-year-old boys, who are so sexually frustrated by spending hours with Internet porn that they have to practice having sex with Nerf footballs.

Yes, there is a scene in Men, Women & Children in which a 15-year-old boy tries having sex with a Nerf football, and no it is not played for laughs -- even though, unintentionally, it gets them.  I laughed a lot in Men, Women & Children, but I don't think the film was intended, at any level, as a comedy.

There's another scene in which Adam Sandler, in full sad-sack schlump mode, hires an $800-an-hour prostitute, then expresses disbelief when he learns his wife is having an affair.  Of course a man may need to turn to a hooker to meet his sexual desires, the movie seems to indicate, but only because his wife isn't able to satisfy him anymore.

Ostensibly, Men, Women & Children wants to explore how we've become so addicted to social media and the Internet that we can't relate to each other anymore.  There are scenes that are live-action equivalents of those shots in Pixar's Wall-E where all the people are floating around staring at screens, unaware of the world around them.  In Men, Women & Children, that vision isn't a futuristic one, it's an observation of what's happening today.

In that, Reitman has a fair point and a valid subject for a movie, but between the pseudo-intellectual references to "Pale Blue Dot" and a prurient fascination with the sexual lives of 15-year-old kids, Men, Women & Children spectacularly loses its focus and turns into a screeching, overwrought insistence that the world is falling apart at the seams.

Weaving together a half-dozen intersecting stories, Men, Women & Children has aspirations to be a Grand Statement like Paul Thomas Anderson's ambitious Magnolia or Paul Haggis's astonishingly overrated Crash, but can't come close to managing it.

In Up in the Air, Reitman memorably and sweetly captured the widespread anxiety and concerns of the moment.  He wants to do the same thing again here, but instead of seeming wise and prescient, Men, Women & Children manages only to be breathlessly, sometimes hysterically, paranoid.

The large and impressive cast, including Jennifer Garner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Judy Greer, Ansel Elgort, J.K. Simmons and Dennis Haysbert really do their best -- but did they read the script?  One key plot point has a character attempting suicide over a video game, while another key moment comes when a mother tries to justify her own kiddie-porn pictures of her daughter.

If only those harlots would stop leading such virile, virtuous men astray.

Viewed Oct. 5, 2014 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks


No comments:

Post a Comment