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Men, Women & Children Review

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A look at the ways in which the lives of four teenagers and related adults are affected by technology and social media, and how they interact in the modern world.

★★★★★

It's unclear what Jason Reitman wants to say with his latest film. Framed by a wry Emma Thompson narration that places its characters in relation to Voyager 1, the first manmade object to leave the Solar System, Reitman clearly sees this middle-class American tale as a literally universal human story. But while he touches on issues including privacy, sex, porn addiction, child exploitation, anorexia, cyber-bullying, overuse of psychiatric drugs, teen pregnancy, social media, infidelity and even the environment, he doesn’t really say anything about any of it.

Everything is set up so transparently. It’s clear from minute one that the moribund marriage of Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt is going to lead to adultery; that Jennifer Garner’s helicopter parent is hovering so close that she’s going to behead someone with her rotors; that cool mum Judy Greer will see her schemes harm rather than help her daughter. As a morality play, this shows no doubt and no nuance: bad people are punished in accordance with their failings. That’s not a criticism of the cast, who do uniformly great work with dialogue that rarely rings true (especially Ansel Elgort and Kaitlyn Dever), but the viewer leaves asking exactly the same questions they had going in. Is social media a threat or merely a new form of self-expression? Reitman doesn’t seem to care.

For a film about technology’s effect on our lives, this is surprisingly cavalier on the details of how social media and online gaming really work, and shows a sometimes flagrant disregard for reality, glamorising the dreary world of online dating and prostitution. Worse, the less preachy and much smarter Heathers covered much of this ground 25 years ago, and while remembering the importance of humour. Here, only Thompson strives for anything close to a laugh, leaving her out of step with everything else on screen.

Both heavy-handed and ham-fisted, this is a self-important morality tale where you can see everyone's uppance coming long before it arrives.

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