Review: Heavy Handed, Preachy ‘Men, Women & Children’ Is Exhausting From Start To Finish

After a string of excellent movies like “Up in the Air” or “Thank You For Smoking”, director Jason Reitman has hit a serious lull. “Young Adult” and “Labor Day” were commercial and critical failures and his latest, “Men, Women & Children” is dead on arrival.

This movie is dull, depressing, and preying on the fears of, well, men, women, and children. If there is a cliché out there, Reitman and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson find it and use it with the subtlety of a jackhammer.

The movie opens with Emma Thompson (who is heard and never seen) narrating and telling a story about the Voyager satellite, essentially telling all of us that Earth is but a speck in the universe and we are all meaningless.

When your movie is this heavy handed, setting up human life in such a manner seems fairly silly. If life is that without reason, why should any of us care about Don and Helen Truby’s (Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt) lifeless marriage? If life is pointless, that means watching Patricia (Jennifer Garner) run her household and essentially place her daughter, Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever), under house arrest is nothing more than an exercise in futility.

“Men, Women & Children” is a two hour cautionary tale filled with exhausting characters and plot lines, all thrown together in one big effort to say “Oh man, the Internet is a terrible place”.

Don is obsessed with online porn and when he discovers that his son is as well, he simply shrugs it off and goes about his day. Helen, sexually bored, hops on a website specifically created for married people who are looking for affairs.

There’s the struggle of Tim (Ansel Elgort), the star football player that has quit the team, much to the chagrin of his father, Kent (Dean Norris), whose wife has recently left him.

Need more depression? How about a young girl with an eating disorder? If that doesn’t do it for you, there is also the exceptionally creepy and vapid mom and daughter pair, Donna and Hannah Clint (Judy Greer and Oliva Crocicchia), who are obsessed with celebrity.

Oh, they also have a seedy website in which Donna photographs Hannah in small amounts of clothing. In one of the most preposterous plot points in recent movie history, Donna seems to have zero clue that not only is this website a horrible idea, it is fully illegal.

This is what “Men, Women, & Children” brings to the table. If you are watching and waiting for someone to get their comeuppance, you’ve walked into the wrong movie. These characters learn nothing. There are a few moments in which a few characters realize their flaws, most notably with Norris and Greer’s characters, but not even close to enough for any sort of audience relief.

Reitman and Wilson have decided to scold us for two hours and preach about the evils of the iPhone and/or Blackberry. Not once does this movie imply that the actions and decisions of these people is the problem. Instead, the dark, evil cause of it all is the Internet.

“Men, Women & Children” is almost saying that if we were all unplugged, everyone would be blissfully happy, singing songs around a camp fire and doing trust falls.

These poor actors are left spewing heavy handed dialogue with absolutely zero levity or respite from the force-fed drama. Sandler, not exactly known for this type of work, seems so bored that it makes you wish for “Grown Ups 3”. He’s been, at the very least, decent in some of his other dramatic roles but it’s painful to watch him awkwardly smile and stutter through this one.

If there is one reason to see “Men, Women & Children”, it would be the scenes shared with Dean Norris and Judy Greer. Their chemistry is fantastic and really the only joyous moments in the entire movie. Of course, by the end, that joy comes crashing down because God Forbid that anyone in this particular movie universe have any promise of a happy future.

This is the final nail in the acting coffin of Jennifer Garner. She seems to be the weak link in every drama she’s in and not only does she fill that role here, she is so irritating that the second she speaks, you’ll cringe. There isn’t much to like about her overbearing mother character, which only makes her performance that much more grating.

Even the windows that pop up next to character’s smart phones showing what they are saying or doing is tired. When a light-hearted, sweet, smart dramedy such as “Chef” uses the same technique to much greater effect, your overwrought “life lesson” is in serious trouble.

“Men, Women & Children” is a dud of the highest order. Movies don’t need to tie everything up with a pretty bow and have everyone walk away smiling and holding hands in the end. In fact, that would make going to the movies a boring event.

But, in the case of this one, a little happiness wouldn’t hurt.

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