A history lesson from a history teacher in Jason Reitman’s “Men, Women & Children:” the Sept. 11 attacks and Pearl Harbor are the only times that America has been attacked on home soil.
This must come as very good news to James Madison, who didn’t need to flee the White House before the British burned it two-hundred years ago, because apparently that didn’t happen.
With movies about teenage life, the risk for adult filmmakers is taking lessons from personal history and falsely projecting them onto the kids of today. This is the difference between Richard Linklater’s assurance in the period piece “Dazed and Confused” compared to “Boyhood,” which sometimes feels like a compromise between director and actor, between then and now.
With “Men, Women & Children” Reitman attempts to deliver a lesson in history-as-it’s-happening. These jocks and cheerleaders are modern innocents swamped in online media (the film’s recurring visual trick, framing them among icons from a computer screen.). To get there, the film treats them less as people than subjects of topical issues–modern, perhaps, but more read and regurgitated than observed and known.
Reitman’s history is making solid movies of genuine social concern. Even when I don’t care for the results (“Up in the Air”) I admire the seriousness and care. He is a child of Hollywood (father being comedy director Ivan Reitman) who thinks that movies should do more than entertain, that they should hold reality up to the mirror of fiction and see what we think of it.
The criticisms being leveled at the film are not wrong. “Men, Women & Children” definitely operates with a certain hysteria, following a condensed set of people (children and parents) who all seem to be doing the absolute worst thing they could do on the internet.
While the film is quick to vilify its overprotective parent (Jennifer Garner), the events actually justify her world view. If there was this much socially unhealthy activity taking place on the Internet (porn, weirdos, obsessive gaming, infidelity, prostitution, more porn) you would check your daughter’s searching habits, too. Is it a coincidence that she seems to have the most well adjusted child (Kaitlyn Dever, quite good)?
That said, I don’t think the film is intended to represent real life (or “RL” as an addicted gamer refers to it), as much as stir thought. If you accept it as an interesting op-ed piece with a goal to provoke, it shapes up pretty well. “Men, Women, & Children” will introduce (but not solve) questions about the time we spend online, whether technology is alienating us rather than bringing us together. Within those limitations, the film does enough to consider it successful.
Finally, a comment should be added concerning the cinematography. Reitman has a nice eye for framing and finding a unique way to suggest activity (such as when he uses the movement of a quilt to imply sex). That’s why it’s such a shame the depth of so many shots are left to blur. Whether this is a unfortunate byproduct of digital shooting or saves time and money doesn’t interest me. I want more deep focus. If someone doesn’t give me deep focus soon, I’m going start to scream.