Before we begin, I must say this: Yes, not having a comma after the “and” sign in the title of Men, Women & Children bothers me. In fact, having the “and” sign there at all, and not just putting the word “and” would bug me if this movie wasn’t about — at least in part — the way that the English language is frequently butchered by “txt speak.” Okay, maybe it’s not about that, but it documents it so realistically that I came away from it thinking more about that than what the movie is actually about. So sue me; that was my experience, and you’re reading this for my experience.
The film follows an ensemble cast as they navigate the hurdles that come from communicating primarily through text. Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) and Don (Adam Sandler) are struggling in their marriage because they don’t get intimate with each other. Patricia (Jennifer Garner) is the most overprotective parent on the face of the planet when it comes to online interactions — so much so that her daughter, Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever) swaps out SIM cards at school in order to text in private. Joan (Judy Greer) takes provocative photos of her daughter (Olivia Crocicchia) in hopes that her daughter can live out her fantasy of moving to L.A. and being famous. Tim (Ansel Elgort) quits football, much to the chagrin of his father (Dean Norris), and becomes involved in online gaming. Chris (Travis Tope), the son of Rachel and Don, is addicted to online porn, and can’t get aroused without it. Allison (Elena Kampouris) is struggling with an eating disorder and … actually has the least developed story in the whole movie, now that I think about it. Oh, and Emma Thompson narrates, because having a monotone British narrator is funny, I guess.
I think that’s all. You’ll recognize most of the adult actors, and probably won’t know of all of the teenage ones. That’s okay. By the end of the film, you’ll have seen enough from all of them. Men, Women & Children runs for two hours, and could end at any point after the 90-minute mark. It doesn’t properly build to a real conclusion, anyway; it just sort of ends, and we get to figure out how everything will play out. There’s some drama, and maybe a couple of the stories get a half-ending, but it seemed more like we just had to arbitrarily end it rather than building to a proper conclusion.
The film explores how relationships are impacted by the invent of instant messaging, social media, and all that other jazz which apparently gives people the right to misspell words at will. This extends to all ages, as long as you’re under the age of 50. I wonder if a grandparent subplot was at one point planned, but scrapped. I suppose I could read the novel, written by Chad Kultgen, on which the film is based, but I really don’t care that much. And reading a real author “rite liek dis 4 u” in a published book might make me vomit, so no thank you.
The problem with Men, Women & Children, I wager, is that it’s too heavy-handed and over-the-top for its message to truly be taken seriously — especially by those who need it. All of the characters are taken to the extreme in one way or another. You know those PSA videos you show to teenagers to scare them off something, like texting and driving (not in this movie, surprisingly), drugs, premarital sex, etc.? Yeah, take one of those, put all of the characters you find in them into one movie, and expand it to feature-length, and you’ve got Men, Women & Children. I feel like most teenagers are going to scoff at this film instead of heeding its messages. Adults might be more forgiving. Your maturity might determine how well Men, Women & Children works for you.
At least the actors do a pretty good job in their roles. Even though most of the characters are written to be extremes of whatever position they have, there’s some subtlety to almost all of the performances that allows the actors to show off, even if just a little bit. I mean, when was the last time Adam Sandler was genuinely good in a movie? The top performances go to Ansel Elgort and Kaitlyn Dever side from the younger actors, and Rosemarie DeWitt, Dean Norris and the aforementioned Sandler from the older generation.
Yeah, Men, Women & Children is too heavy-handed in its attempt to tell us how all of our text-based communication is actually stopping us from communicating as well as we used to with one another, but, hey, if you can get past that, it’s got some actors putting in a solid effort and enough characters and storylines to keep you from getting bored — even if it could have ended a half hour before or after it did and still have the same amount of closure. If you don’t immediately laugh at over-the-top PSAs, Men, Women & Children might be a rewarding watch.