It’s never fun seeing a filmmaker you enjoy stuck in a rut, but that’s exactly what seems to have happened with Jason Reitman, who tainted his near-flawless body of work with last year’s soapy romance “Labor Day.” And though his latest movie isn’t nearly as bad, it’s a fairly mediocre drama that doesn’t completely succeed in its attempt to be a merciless social commentary on communication in the digital age. “Men, Women & Children” might as well have come with the subtitle, “Or Why the Internet is Really Bad,” because that’s pretty much the message that Reitman is preaching. Is it a little heavy-handed, melodramatic and obvious at times? Sure, but it also features some great performances and an intriguing multi-story narrative that doesn’t pull any punches in its denunciation of the internet.
Adam Sandler stars as Don Truby, a middle-aged schlub whose sex life with his wife Helen (Rosemary DeWitt) is so non-existent that he’s resorted to watching porn on his teenage son’s computer. Bored with the lack of excitement in his marriage, Don hires an escort from an online service, totally unaware that Helen is using a website for married people seeking affairs to have one of her own. Their son Chris (Travis Tope), meanwhile, has become so desensitized from watching porn at a young age that he’s unable to perform when he hooks up with sexpot cheerleader Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia), whose own mother (Judy Greer) has been enabling the wannabe actress by posting provocative photos of Hannah on her modeling website. And the worst part is that she doesn’t think she’s doing anything wrong.
The other kids at school are just as messed up. Fellow cheerleader Allison (Elena Kampouris) has resorted to anorexia in an attempt to win the affections of the school hunk, while star quarterback Tim (Ansel Elgort) has been taking his mother’s recent abandonment so hard that he’s quit the football team and rechanneled that energy into playing an online role-playing game. Having lost most of his friends as a result of that decision, Tim forms a bond with shy girl Brandy Beltmeyer, whose mother Patricia (Jennifer Garner) is so obsessed about the potential dangers of the internet that she monitors all of Brandy’s online activity and tracks her every movement with her phone. So when Patricia discovers that Brandy has been secretly hanging out with a boy, she doesn’t think twice about the ramifications of her constant meddling.