All that talk about how his 2009 film Up in the Air captured the zeitgeist of an era in which corporate lackeys jetted across the country to ruthlessly downsize big conglomerates must've gone to writer-director Jason Reitman's head. He again tries to capture the times in his latest work, Men, Women and Children, a dark comedy that opens areawide on Friday. The film, however, falls short of the mark, delivering something that comes across as pedantic and obvious as it satirizes our social networking-obsessed culture.
The film starts with a funny scene in which Don (Adam Sandler, proving again he's better suited to handle dramatic roles than comedic parts these days) checks out the porn on his son's computer and proceeds to masturbate. Meanwhile Joan (Judy Greer) helps her buxom daughter Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia) pursue her modeling career by posting half-naked pictures of her on the Internet. High school football star Tim Mooney (Ansel Elgort) decides to quit the football team because he's simply not feeling it, incurring the wrath of his fellow teammates, who proceed to send him disparaging text messages. And Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever) has to go to extremes to keep her nosy, tech savvy mother (Jennifer Garner) out of her hair.
Yes, we live in a world dominated by social media. The film's point is an obvious one and as its plot progresses and storylines cross paths, it's easy to see how things will wind up. Don will eventually start sleeping with a prostitute, Hannah will try to land a spot on a reality TV show and Brandy will create an alter ego on the Internet and hope that her crafty mother doesn't stumble upon her Tumblr account. And as much as Tim is a tough guy who just doesn't give a fuck what his classmates think, the pressure to play sports will finally get to him. The film's tagline "Discover how little you know about the people you know" speaks to the ways that social networking sets up walls between family members and friends. But let's be honest. Parents have always meddled and teens have always rebelled. What Reitman portrays as a brave new world is really just an extension of the one that already existed.
That said, the film's first half has some very funny moments. While Emma Thompson's narration probably isn't necessary, her observations about the ways in which the characters are setting themselves up for failure are amusing, and we can laugh at the awkward interactions that take place. But the tone switches in the second half, and the shift is rather jarring and doesn't really work. Critics have already skewered the movie (it came out in bigger markets earlier this month) but viewers probably won't dislike it as much simply because the ensemble cast puts in such a fine performance.