Men Women and Children follows almost dozen characters. It’s an ambitious turn for Reitman, whose previous films focus on only one or two characters and their development over the course of ninety minutes. What’s upsetting is that even though the film clocks in at just under two hours (and you can really feel the length), it still feels like we haven’t made a connection to any of the characters. The script is constructed such that every character only has one defining trait - there’s the anorexic girl, the video game addict, the dad going through a divorce. It’s weird seeing a Jason Reitman movie where the characters are so shallow. The film tries so hard to make character moments and relationships work, but by the movie’s end, it feels like we spent two hours following around all of these characters for no good reason and the audience walks away with nothing.
None of the performances are anything to write home about, either. Adam Sandler and Jennifer Garner are the biggest stars in the movie, with Dean Norris, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Judy Grier also rounding out the adult half of the cast. Most of the movie focuses on the high schoolers because they’re the ones that understand modern technology. And boy, does Men Women and Children focus on technology. In almost every single scene, characters have text bubbles above their heads as they tap away at their phones. A few choice scenes take place entirely on a laptop screen. It’s realistic, to be sure, but also boring and unoriginal. Last year, a short film called Noah made the rounds online because it took place entirely on a kid’s computer screen. It’s compelling because it finds interesting ways to tell a story, but in Men Women and Children, there’s no reason for so many scenes to take place on a screen - like the cellphones and computers are actually doing all of the acting for the kids. The cast of small-time actors is given so little to do.
What makes the one-dimensional characters all the more upsetting is that Men Women and Children tries to tackle some serious issues. Suicide, bullying, adultery, and anorexia are all featured prominently in the movie. Admittedly it’s in good taste, but it’s so incredibly overbearing that the audience feels insulted. This doesn’t read as a “lesson movie” per se, but when you walk away from it, all you remember is what it tries to get across instead of how these horrible circumstances affect the characters. In my eyes, that’s a failure.