'Men, Women & Children': Frowny Face Emoticon

Jason Reitman was a bit of a TIFF darling after the success of “Juno” and “Up in the Air,” but he hit a bit of a speed bump last year with the melodrama “Labor Day,” and it looks like his latest isn’t going to help him much. To be fair, “Men, Women & Children” hasn’t received exclusively scathing reviews so far – Owen Gleiberman and Mike Ryan expressed admiration for it on Twitter, and early reviews include a positive notice from The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy.

After that, though: yikes. The film already looked like a bit of a “Crash” for the digital era, but critics have really pressed on the Paul Haggis comparisons for Reitman’s heavy-handed, self-seriously “Very Important” approach. Scott Tobias of The Dissolve called the film “catastrophically misjudged” on Twitter, while a number of writers have called the film out for its misogyny. Mike D’Angelo might have managed the funniest take on the film using all emoticons (something Reitman might pitch as proof that technology is bad, judging from the film’s tone):

Reviews are still rolling in, and some of the more livid critics on Twitter haven’t even filed yet, but here’s a sample of what’s already out.

Justin Chang, Variety

It could have been worse — mercifully, we’re spared the sort of fatal texting-while-driving climax to which a more melodramatically amped-up film might have resorted. But the relative subtlety of Reitman’s approach has its drawbacks, too, especially when applied to this sort of overdetermined story framework. Unsure whether to enfold its characters in a warm embrace or to fillet them in a Todd Solondz-style indictment of suburban anomie (the director certainly has it in him, judging by the misanthropic comedy of arguably his best film, “Young Adult”), “Men, Women & Children” settles for a reaction that feels noncommittal, insincere and curiously anesthetized: Watching it is like getting a hug from someone sheathed in plastic, fearful of emotional contamination. The multiple-narrative structure accommodates this hesitant approach; whenever a particular interaction gets too probing or uncomfortable, there’s always someone or something else to cut away to. Read more.

Tim Grierson, Screen Daily

Once it’s apparent that, in the film’s view, the Internet is the cause for most of the characters’ problems, “Men, Women & Children quickly turns into an earnest issue-driven drama in which most everybody on screen needs to be healed so that they can see the errors in their behaviour. (Barring that, the characters will finally have the big heart-to-heart conversation that has been building for a while.) The movie doesn’t have much self-awareness that the issues it tackles — suicide, anorexia, teen hormones, adultery, generational conflict, divorce — existed long before Twitter, and so the movie’s wistful resignation about ‘The State Of The World Today’ seems naïve and shallow. (The story’s aura of self-seriousness is driven home by a narration from Emma Thompson that aspires to give “Men, Women & Children” a classy, sombre, almost novelistic elegance.) Read more.

Kevin Jagernauth, The Playlist

Online gaming! Anorexia! Secret Tumblr accounts! Porn! Escorts! Saucy teenage photos that might be inappropriate! Reveals via Facebook posts! It’s actually kind of amazing “Men, Women & Children” never addresses sexting as it seems to want to check off every other box in the Internet Panic column, and sadly, Reitman has absolutely nothing new to say here. When the film actually flirts with an unconventional idea, it lacks the courage to follow it up. For example, shortly after both Don and Rachel embark on affairs, we see a scene of the married couple smiling, and enjoying breakfast together with the kind of love they clearly haven’t had for each other in ages. A braver movie would consider the potential positives of both restoking their fires outside of the home in order to save their marriage. But Reitman never gives it a second thought and goes for a more traditional resolution which you can probably guess faster than I can type “windows on the desktop accidentally left open.” Read more.

Eric Kohn, Indiewire

However, the most egregious device is a recurring voiceover inexplicably provided by Emma Thompson, who never appears onscreen, explaining several characters’ thoughts at opportune moments. (When an escort compliments Don on his junk, Thompson intones, “Don knew he had an average-sized penis.”) Perhaps this is meant to further the sense of dislocation created by today’s plugged-in culture. Instead, it enforces a dull framework on the entire narrative, which never allows the material to stand on its own ground. Read more.

Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter

The cast is an ensemble all the way, with the well-known actors meshing seamlessly with the unknowns and newcomers. As a horny sad sack who’s reluctantly accustomed himself to sublimating his pressing needs, Sandler appealingly underplays, while DeWitt, as his straying wife, ultimately expresses a boldness at odds with her fundamentally unadventurous nature. Greer and Garner nicely catch the essences of characters that are clueless and scary, respectively. With its cultural antenna at attention and a style as precise and burnished as the latest high-tech instrument, “Men, Women & Children” will always serve usefully as a snapshot of this moment; illustrative right now, it will likely look quite quaint within a decade. Read more.

Jared Mobarak, The Film Stage

A greatest hits of millennial struggles, the real problem with the film is how it has been constructed. Using disembodied narration by Emma Thompson, one can’t not think about “Stranger Than Fiction” and let the comical nature of it taint your ability to buy into anything onscreen being authentic. A storybook feel is manufactured that makes everything seem more fabricated and cliched than it obviously is already. As it is the filmmakers must use extreme stereotypes to get their point across, but rather than use then to subvert they appear to believe these creatures actually exist in the same small town. Maybe the dark fairy tale quality is more self-aware then I’d like to believe, but I was always held at arm’s length because of it. Read more.

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