Jason Reitman's sixth feature opens with a recreation of Voyager moving across the universe, around planets, looking out and back to the tiniest element of the universe, our planet, as Emma Thompson explains its existance, and what its continual journey means to humanity, and the concept of meaning in the universe. Before the credits are up we are outwardly reminded that nothing matters, and everything we do in our lifetimes on this planet will not be noticed beyond orbit, so what really is the point? Men, Women And Children has big brass for reminding us this, it's a shame that what follows only makes us think that there are infinite other choices to waste our time on Earth with rather than this messy, limp after-school special on social media.
An ensemble drama about the perils and dangers of using the internet and the effects of social networks in our physical realm, Men, Women And Children brings a small Texan community together, as Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt play a bored couple who branch off into infidelities using the internet, their eldest son gets close to a cheerleader, whose mother Judy Greer has been helping her acting and modeling career with a rather suspect website. Greer meets Dean Norris at a parent meeting by internet-hating Jennifer Garner, and begin dating, whilst Garner's daughter Kaitlyn Dever, an outcast at school, begins hanging out with Norris' former football-star son who turned his back on such antics for the sake of building a new life in Guild Wars, Ansel Elgort. There's stories of starvation based on the internet's ideas of beauty thrown into the mix as well, and porn addiction, trolling is there too slightly. A quick search on reddit would make up the majority of archetypes in this film. But a broad focus isn't necessarily bad, the lack of impact or quality writing is, however, and so often the film fails to intrigue or find anything worth saying about the modern age, rather it waves a walking stick on the edge of its lawn at these young kids, telling them that things that we once feared before realising its potential could be dangerous. It's a film whose moral and ethical information seems to be taken from a pamphlet printed just after Y2K.
The nearest to an interesting storyline looks at Norris as a recently divorced man, his wife ran off to California nicely, and Greer's failed actress both bonding over their lack of luck and love, and children with internet dangers and what not. The chemistry between them and the charisma of both aid scenes tremendously, but even this suffers the same fate as the rest of the film, the need to bring in melodrama from every angle means that any nice pleasant moments are overshadowed by the third act where everything, which means nothing in the grand scale of things remember, means everything to everyone. That is, if you're lucky to get a third act, some storylines are just dropped during the last 25 minutes ungraciously, perhaps in a 'life doesn't have a natural ending' way, whilst many others wrap up with oddly pretty bows.
Whatever Men, Women And Children wants to say and do about people's attachments to their phones, the internet, the virtual world, it does with the precision of a moon collapsing into a planet in an effort to squash an ant, but the ant ultimately survives at the end, looks upon the devastation caused to the suicidal satellite in its efforts, and laughs. Despite a stellar cast, the film is utterly devoid of any reason to exist, entertainment-wise or educationally. It is utterly empty, like my inbox, like the blinking cursor that tempts us to write to fill in that emptiness, writing anything to avoid the void, even if what we're writing is Men, Women And Children.