When I first heard that Jason Reitman, the same man who directed ‘Thank You For Smoking’, was directing a film about the modern use of the internet and social media, I have to admit I was really interested. Unfortunately though, when the film was released, critics and audiences bashed it. The film currently holds a score of 38 on Metacritic with 31% of critics giving the film a positive review according to Rotten Tomatoes. So what went wrong? According to the consensus on Rotten Tomatoes, the film’s approach to the themes was “overbearing” and ruined the impact the film would have had on the masses. Despite most people seeing trash, I saw a masterful piece of treasure that works beautifully as a statement about the impact of the internet on our lives as well as how we use it.
Pro or Anti Internet?
The trailers for ‘Men, Women and Children’ bring up the question the film tries to answer: is the internet and social media a good thing or bad? The film itself does not necessarily answer that question to a full extent, but it definitely presents good arguments for both sides later coming to a more interesting conclusion that overall, it is not the internet itself that is a hazard, it is us, the user, instead. The film shows us both sides of the internet argument with its diverse cast of characters including Patricia (played by Jennifer Garner) and Tim (played by Ansel Elgort). While it can be argued that Garner is playing an over the top version of a fearful parent, I felt she emphasized the main characteristics of a sheltering parent afraid of the unknown. Her character is also a fantastic example of how users make the internet more dangerous in the scene where she goes behind her daughter’s back and sends Tim messages leading to his suicide attempt. This shows how her actions of trying to protect her child ironically backfire as she puts the life of someone else in peril. She is no better than anyone else online because she put someone in harm’s way, the same harm that she is trying to make sure her daughter, Brandy (played by Kaitlyn Dever) avoids.
Tim’s character is a very fascinating one as well that uses social media and the internet for coping purposes. In the film, Tim’s mother runs off with someone else leaving Tim and his dad alone. This is a really interesting way to show a mostly positive look at coping. Tim is trying to occupy his time with something he loves and while it does force him to quit football for instance, it also gets him closer to Brandy. Like Patricia, Tim is also afraid of the unknown, which in his case is loneliness, and he utilizes time online to make sure he is not alone. This is really interesting character development that relates to the main idea of the film and shows us a more positive outlook on social media’s influence on people. While Tim is merely using social networks as a way to hide his insecurities, he also discovers benefits including finding someone who truly cares about him.
Reitman also displays examples of how users are the hazard through such characters as Hannah and Donna Clint (played by Olivia Crocicchia and Judy Greer respectively). The two use the internet to promote Hannah’s acting and modelling (though mostly her modelling) and because of the negative reaction it brings to television executives, Hannah loses a chance at getting her big break in a reality show. This is very ironic in two ways, firstly and obviously, as she tries so hard to become an actress by putting her “talent” online, she is rejected because of it. Secondly, this story supports Patricia’s views of how dangerous and deceptive the internet can be, despite Reitman showing her flaws earlier in the film. Hannah puts her physical self online making her a possible victim to sexual harassment and give a negative impression to those who see the pictures, especially in such a politically correct society.
Love vs. Lust
What makes ‘Men, Women and Children’ so interesting is that it does not just talk about the dangers of the internet, it also talks about the common misconception between love and lust today. Reitman beautifully displays this with the characters of Don and Helen Truby (Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt). Don and Helen are a couple struggling with their marriage and each start having an affair behind each others’ backs. Both are so interesting because they each mistake sex and lust for true love and happiness. Don displays this best through his porn addiction. There are scenes where we see Don sneak onto his son’s computer in order to indulge in this. It is so interesting because Don’s actions are a great social statement about the way some people view sex because of porn as well as how sex has become more dominant in society over the idea of love. Helen also makes the error of mistaking sex for love by discussing how she wants to feel loved by having sex with other men such as Secretluvur (played by Dennis Haysbert). The way some people view sex because of porn is also shown well in Don and Helen’s son, Chris as he cannot become aroused unless he is watching or doing something extreme done in porn.
If you compare the motives of Hannah and the relationship between Tim and Brandy, this is also a terrific example of the juxtaposition between true love and lust. In the film, Hannah is sex driven. She constantly talks about the joy of it, even to an extent where it annoys or offends her friends. In the beginning of the film, we see her talking to fellow cheerleaders and as Hannah talks, we see the speech bubbles of the other cheerleaders talking about how much of a nuisance she is. Compare this to the relationship that Tim and Brandy have and it is extremely interesting. In contrast to Hannah’s lust drive, we see a relationship form between Tim and Brandy that is formed on compassion, trust and actual love. This contrast is so cool because we get to see two sides of the high school. On one side is lust and on another is love and Reitman shows he favors love when Hannah fails and Tim and Brandy succeed at the end.
A Statement or a Story?
The film starts with a narration by Emma Thompson discussing the impact of the events present in the film from the perspective of the Voyager. We as an audience also feel like we are seeing this series of events through the eyes of a third party as well such as the Voyager. We get to see the different sides of the argument involving the internet with Patricia, the Truby’s and the Clint’s on one side as well as Tim and Brandy on another. The film ultimately comes to the conclusion like any argumentative essay that it is the users who make the internet what it is and not the service itself. We see different stories showing these people who are exposed to social media one way or another for better or worse and we get to see their actions online and how they impact others such as Patricia’s decision to send that angry text to Tim leading to his suicide attempt. The film also talks about the common misconception of love and lust in every day society using the Truby’s as an excellent example. Even if it can be argued that the film is overbearing, that seems to be the overall mission. ‘Men, Women and Children’ plays more as a statement about the way we see love and communication in this day and age than an actual story. It seems that Reitman wants to get his points about our modern day and age online out there before worrying about the overall story, which can be boring and annoying to some, but came off as really interesting and something special here in my eyes.
What do you all think of ‘Men, Women and Children’? Leave a comment below telling me your thoughts.
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