People apparently still make films like Men, Women & Children. This is disconcerting.
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
Dear Jason Reitman,
Congratulations! You have just directed and co-written one of the absolute worst and most reprehensible pieces of shit I have bared witness to in all of 2014! I can imagine that you approached the task of directing and co-writing Men, Women & Children – based on a 2011 novel by Chad Kultgen – with some trepidation. I mean, after all, how could you possibly bottom out harder than you did when you wrote and directed Labor Day – a relentless schmaltzy bucket of unicorn piss where Stockholm Syndrome is supposedly the most romantic thing in the world? Yet you did not let that high bar hit your determination, and you managed to surpass it in just pure, Stone Age, out-of-touch backwardness with flying colours! Well done! Gold star!
I mean, it’s 2014 and you made a film all about how technology is The Devil! I thought that we had outgrown that kind of shit by 2003! One of the characters in your film blames 9/11 for the rise of mobile phones and the Internet! I mean, that takes real conscious effort! That’s not the kind of sentence one tosses off without thinking about. That takes real, honest effort; the kind where the person who writes it down sits back and reflects upon it and at no point goes, “No, wait, hang on a minute, that’s f*cking stupid and borderline offensive.” And for a scene like that to perfectly encapsulate proceedings as a whole requires that kind of real, honest effort to sustain itself through two full hours. So I applaud your commitment, Mr. Reitman!
I especially admire just how far you push your pretentious “Oh, look at me, I have something to say that nobody has ever thought of or expressed before!” sentiments by framing the film with frequent cutbacks to the NASA space probe Voyager, whilst an absolutely wasted and bored-as-hell Emma Thompson drones on in the background about everything and nothing at once. Like, the message that we are all tiny insignificant specks fretting over nothing and wasting our lives away with technology instead of putting our minds together and attempting to improve humanity’s future by building technology? Sheer genius! I’m also certain that the fact that the rest of the film is so vehemently anti-technology and anti-Internet – because of how it is RUINING SOCIAL INTERACTIONS – didn’t pass you by and you, therefore, chose to be so blatantly hypocritical because that’s just how committed you were to making an utterly dreadful piece of crap!
Anyways, sorry, your main message from Men, Women & Children: the Internet and mobile phones and the kids today with their texting and their Instagramming and their vidjagames and their wotsits and howdiddos are ruining everybody’s relationships forever. Very interesting. Original, too! Not ideas-wise, I mean, but in sheer bloody commitment and bald-faced moralising about it all. I mean, even Transcendence wasn’t this committed to its moralising beliefs, and that was a film that believed that women should stay away from science because their emotions ruin everything! You, Jason Reitman, could have used this topic for a genuinely balanced and interesting look at how technology has affected our lives and day-to-day relationships. But, hey, why do that when we can coat proceedings in endless dour humourless “guys, I have just had this huge brainwave” serious tone, strip out any trace of another side to this argument, and just speechify and moralise for two straight hours?
After all, did you hear that people use the Internet and text messaging and the like to bully people and send death threats? And that there are places and images on the Internet that promote anorexic levels of thinness, which can really hurt a young woman’s self-esteem? And we can’t forget about those darn videogames that encourage long-form play! Oh, and how about how the Internet allows teenagers to post revealing pictures of themselves online despite not being of age? These are all things that happen – they’re not the only things that happen on the Internet, but why let that little fact get in the way of some scaremongering, eh? – and you rightly chose to present them as if you and your co-writer, Secretary’s Erin Cressida Wilson, were the very first people to have ever discovered them and your viewers are Amish farmers frozen in the 1950s who have just been thawed! Really adds to the stupidly moralistic feel.
Oh, and porn! Let’s not forget about porn! Porn warps one’s mind and makes them incapable of experiencing real intimacy because their mind has been irreparably twisted by the uncouth fantasies and desires that porn does to a young man’s mind! I must also applaud your distributor, Paramount, for choosing to release Men, Women & Children just 4 days after British government passed a number of laws banning certain acts in pornography, by the by. Truly inspired timing! I mean, what would have come off as a preachy Puritan parent beforehand now gets to come off as morally righteous propaganda that our idiot politicians would likely applaud and back as proof of their decision!
Besides, as we all know, pornography is The Absolute Devil and the Internet doubles that devilry by making it easier than ever to get a hold of it. Plus, now there’s no fun in it! After all, back in your day, Mr. Reitman, finding pornography was a rite of passage! One passed down from generation to generation as young sons would stumble upon their father’s magazine collection and continue the cycle. Excellent work putting that sentiment into your script and having an unreally bored Emma Thompson read it with no trace of sarcasm or irony to really seal that Crotchety Old Man stance, by the by. This whole thread is like you watched Don Jon and set out to make a film that does the exact opposite of that film’s nuanced take on Porn Addiction; I admire that commitment.
Anyways: relationships! What is up with those, amiright? Mr. Reitman, I must say that I find your approach to the various aspects of relationships depicted in this film to be wonderfully misguided. I mean, it takes brass balls to make a two hour feature whose primary message reads “These relationships would be considerably less f*cked if the Internet weren’t around to facilitate these darkest desires!” After all, Judy Greer’s pushy exploitative stage mom would never have pushed her daughter, Olivia Crocicchia, into being such a selfish shitty human being if the Internet didn’t literally allow her to exploit her daughter, and Olivia wouldn’t have become such a shitty human being if she didn’t measure her life by her follower count – because teenagers had never worried about popularity until these convenient number totals came along!
Meanwhile, Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt – married parents who no longer feel any desire for one another – would never have started having affairs on one another if it weren’t for the Internet! After all, the Internet makes it too darn easy; there are literally websites set up for the sole purpose of meeting people to have affairs with! And their teenage son would have been such a happy and normal boy if it weren’t for that blasted porn warping his brain. Elena Kampouris, elsewhere, wouldn’t be having body image issues if that damn Internet wasn’t there pressuring her with constant reinforcement! And look at what the Internet has done to Jennifer Garner! It’s made her so paranoid about her daughter that she relentlessly stalks her entire Internet and mobile phone presence because THAT GODDAMN INTERNET RUINING EVERYTHING!
An actually good film would have looked at how the Internet affects such situations whilst still acknowledging that these are things that would happen anyway. But, Mr. Reitman, you realised that such a road would be dreadfully boring and that increasing bewilderment over the realisation that Men, Women & Children sincerely believes that these would not be problems if it weren’t for THAT MOTHERFRAKKIN’ INTERNET is a much better choice! I was kinda hoping you’d go the whole hog and claim that Major League Baseball was controlling the world via satellites, but I guess you wanted to reign back and settle on “crazy homeless man with tinfoil hats” as your default setting. Understandable.
I particularly enjoyed the scene, Mr. Reitman, in which you had Dean Norris discover the Guild Wars that Ansel Elgort is into. The way that he reacts to a keyboard input equalling a character movement in the game like a caveman does fire or a cat does its shadow? Would have been utterly inadvertently hysterical if you hadn’t played it – much like you play everything else in this film – with this dreary, humourless tone that accurately reflects the guy at a party who thinks he’s all smart to politics and life and stuff but then he opens his mouth and you realise he’s just a f*cking idiot. After all, we wouldn’t want this film to risk crossing over into “So Bad, It’s Good” territory, do we? That would defeat the purpose of this whole entire exercise!
And the cast that you assembled for this thing! Ansel Elgort – turning in a performance that is less “depressed teen” and more “sleepwalking actor” – Dean Norris – who looks incredibly hopelessly lost with his material – Jennifer Garner – turning in a performance that somehow makes her obnoxiously awful character (who the film ultimately ends up proving right a lot due to pretty much nobody being allowed to end this film happy; nice touch) even more unbearable – the disembodied voice of Emma Thompson – whose every word practically screams “can I take my paycheque now?” – Dennis Haysbert and J. K. Simmons – who both get absolutely nothing to do – the wonderful Judy Greer – committed but saddled with atrocious material – Adam Sandler’s once-every-half-decade dramatic role – wasted by getting nothing to do – and a cameo by Phil LaMarr. It is like you were going out of your way to waste actors and actresses I like! Bravo!
You know something, Jason Reitman? I got you all wrong. I thought I had pegged you for one of the new great filmmakers. Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up In The Air, Young Adult… That’s a resume that seemingly indicates a filmmaker of great skill, a storyteller who knows exactly how to pitch each scene without it coming across as either a thuddingly obnoxious morality lecture or having a thoroughly misguided moral compass. But 2014 has seemingly proven me wrong. Apparently you just want to make disgustingly reprehensible movies with no self-awareness of how incredibly shitty or out-of-touch the finished products come off as.
Well I salute your vision, Mr. Jason Reitman! That was a really nice touch, too, pretending to build up an actual career before torching it near-totally in the space of 12 months in order to make me feel betrayed that a director such as yourself would voluntarily flush that talent, spark and drive down the toilet. You absolutely don’t need to take a few years off, reflect long and hard on your last two films, realise exactly where and why everything went wrong, re-hone your skills and come back revitalised and ready to make great movies again! I mean, why should you? Men, Women & Children is your magnum opus: a putrid, regressive, out-of-touch, overly preachy, one-sided, humourless slog of a movie. The kind that can only come about through sheer determination to make a film that offended and bewildered me as much as is humanly possible.
Keep up the utterly dreadful work, mate!
Callum Petch feels love. Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!