TIFF 2014: Jason Reitman Reaches Deep in 'Men, Women & Children'
by Alex Billington
September 6, 2014
"That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives." This is where we live, all of us, on this pale blue dot floating in the Milky Way. Jason Reitman's latest film, Men, Women & Children adapted from Chad Kultgen's novel of the same name, is framed within the context of Carl Sagan's timeless quote called "Pale Blue Dot" and the Voyager spacecrafts that we launched in 1977. Men, Women & Children is Reitman's most sensitive work yet, a deeply moving, sensual film about all of us on this planet. I've been a fan of Reitman for a longtime, and still love his early work, but he seems to keep getting more mature with every film he makes.
In Reitman's Men, Women & Children he addresses a tough subject to approach with finesse in this day and age - the way technology (and, of course, the internet) has created endless sexual tensions and superficial complications among human beings on Earth. The film opens doors to society that are rarely opened, yet instead of throwing them wide open in the middle of someone changing, he carefully and quietly lifts the curtain to give us a glimpse at the world behind the world in front of our eyes. Using a voiceover by Emma Thompson for narrative framing, the film is an ensemble piece that follows a number of characters young and old in a small town in Texas, which is about as stereotypical as it gets with regards to American society.
The film drifts back and forth between various families and characters in this town, including a football player (Ansel Elgort from The Fault in Our Stars) giving up the sport while falling for the weird girl of the school (Kaitlyn Dever from Short Term 12). However, her mom (Jennifer Garner) is overly freaked out and constantly tracks her whereabouts, leading to more social problems. A single mother (Judy Greer) is living vicariously through her daughter, the prettiest girl in school (Olivia Crocicchia) with aspirations of becoming the "next big celebrity" and not much else. There's also the family where the husband and wife, played by Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt, are just bored and start seeking sexual gratification through affairs. Does all this help? Or is it just the product of our times? Can we actually be better than this?
What's great about the film is how it deftly tackles these kind of sensitive topics with a grace and elegance. Only a filmmaker this talented, this mature, this aware of society and its nuances, could approach a story like this and create a film that doesn't leave anyone feeling unhappy or upset by the end. At times the film is very depressing, with the second half of it providing some optimism amidst the otherwise depressive nature of society, but it shows all this to make us think. And think deeply about our choices, about this technology that surrounds us. This isn't a happy Hollwood film with an ending that will leave you smiling, it's the kind that you'll walk out of with many thoughts on your mind, that may linger for days or weeks or months after.
Men, Women & Children is ambitious in its scope, and reaches far to address not just one issue, but many issues related to technology and the internet and modern society. Perhaps I was hoping or wanting to see more, hoping for it to continue on into a mini-series (or something like that), because by the end while I was satisfied with all we'd seen, there wasn't enough closure. Instead, and maybe this is his point, he let's the characters continue - we all know they will have a life after the events of the film, and they will live on with changes. But how exactly did all of this affect them? Are those changes for the better? These, and more, questions come up by the end and I'm glad Reitman explored as much through as many characters as he did.
Above all, what makes the film really work is the framing, the context of everything we're seeing within the ideas of "Pale Blue Dot". The notion that, almost everything that happens, all these arguments, the desire be famous, the desire for success and gratification, is mostly trivial when compared to the vastness of space. Maybe we need to think bigger, maybe we must realize that this device in our hands, that computer on our desk, is just another form of distraction. "There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."
Alex's TIFF 2014 Rating: 8.5 out of 10
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