Men, Women and Children: A thought provoking look at society and technology brilliantly executed
By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor
When a movie opens with narration by the wonderfully talented Emma Thompson and then cuts to Adam Sandler preparing to masturbate, you know you are in for something different. In this case different is a good thing and this movie deserves every bit of praise. I will do my best not to spoil this wonderful film as it needs to be experienced and as the director said in interview, every person will walk out the theater feeling something different. (Also my colleague Adam Tawfik has yet to see it.)
The one thing I could equate this film to is a lemon meringue pie. At first you have that light airiness to it, the comedic start with Sandler masturbating; but you quickly move to what is beneath that which is a rich and satisfying lemon curd represented by an all star cast, outstanding story and honest social commentary. Beneath is the crust that holds it together as this story is interwoven by several storylines that connect in a way that is Love Actually meets Crash.
Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt play a couple whose relationship has fizzled through the years and although they go through the motions, there is a strong sense of disconnect and both are dissatisfied in their marriage. The couple is unaware that their son is going through a somewhat bizarre personal struggle which I can attest is completely legitimate considering I went to high school with a person who was the mirror image of this character. He is only able to gain arousal by watching very specific type of pornography, a kind that defies social norms and is thus unable to get an erection when he is finally with a girl. The film handles this in a way that doesn’t hold anything back nor does it demonize the porn industry as a whole; rather it shows an unfortunate side effect that can come when dominatrix videos are a keystroke away.
Another storyline follows Judy Greer and Olivia Crocicchia as a single mother living vicariously through her daughter by hosting a modeling site that posts images that border on what is considered to be in good taste. Greer’s character while being sympathetic is at times hard to watch as the audience struggles to understand why a mother could do this to her daughter. I have not seen Crocicchia in any works prior to this film but I really enjoyed her performance of that girl who is in every high school. She’s the queen bee of her clique but struggles with insecurities and hasfriends who want her around to boost their image but speak badly about her behind her back.
Then there is Ansel Elgort who already displayed in this year’s The Fault in our Stars, that he is capable of showing an emotional range. However Tim’s pain is very different than that of Gus; he struggles to deal with the emotions and making major changes in his life. I believe the younger viewers will be drawn to him and Kaitlyn Dever’s characters the most as they play an almost Romeo and Juliet kind of relationship.
The show stealer is by far Jennifer Garner as Patricia Beltmeyer; even the character’s name inspires Nurse Ratchet disdain. Garner, known for playing mostly sweet and sympathetic characters does a total 360 in this role of an overbearing mother who obsessively watches her daughter online believing it’s the only way to protect her. It may be too early to say but I would not be surprised if she gained a supporting actress nod from this part come Oscar season.
Adam Sandler was the curveball that surprised me most, partly because it’s the first time he’s shown us he can actually act in a good long while. I will not ruin it, but there is a kitchen scene near the end of the film, and he is brilliant. That’s all I am going to say.
As for the young actors, I see promise in all of them, particularly in the one storyline I have yet to mention, Elena Kampouris’ storyline. I question whether or not casting J.K. Simmons as her father serves as a spoiler of what happens to her but her arc is the one that really got to me the most and that’s because hers is the most open ended at the close of the film. While the others have a more uplifting feel, hers left me afraid for her. I also really hope the youngsters watching this learn about body image and what’s right and wrong in that regard. If they pull nothing else from this film I hope her story saves boys and girls finding themselves in a similar struggle.
At times hard to watch and heartbreaking, Men, Women, and Children is the type of film that sparks discussion and causes you to think. I hope that upon the DVD release this film is added to high school curriculum as it has important life lessons to instill on the next generation. Part of why I liked this movie significantly more than Her is that it doesn’t try to demonize technology. While there is a tangible disconnect among people, it shows the good that comes with it as well. People still connect. In fact the Dever/Elgort storyline shows how the technology initially brings them together and then they start to learn how to communicate from there. 9/10 stars.
On a completely unrelated note, Phil Lamarr, one of my favorite voice actors, is in this movie which made me completely irrationally happy. He plays a small part but seeing his face behind the mic of Samurai Jack/The Green Lantern/Hermes Conrad is a huge perk.