agorski’s review published on Letterboxd:
"I think if I disappeared tomorrow, the universe wouldn't really notice."
You'd be pressed to find anyone above ten years old that doesn't have a smart phone today. Social networking and cell phones have a massive impact on our lives today, there's no denying that. But, what I find funny is that despite the fact that Men, Women & Children heavily features social networking and how it has affected the lives of, you guessed it, men, women and children, it hones in on the one aspect of social media that many try to avoid discussing: how it affects our relationships and sex lives. This is what gives Jason Reitman's latest feature the upper hand, as the film could have very easily been another predictable "public service message" about how social network is terrible for people.
That isn't to say that the film welcomes social networking with open-arms. In fact, the film flat-out spits in the face of some of the featured social media sites and shows how they can create fake and lifeless caricatures. There's a scene where one high school student asks if his parents saw the events of 9/11 unfold on their phones, which is not only a bit insulting, but sadly true in that some people nowadays act and think like that. But, the film isn't afraid to also show that there might be some pros to social media as well.
His parents go on by telling him that cell phones started becoming popular after 9/11 because it was a way to make sure your close friends were alright in places where you might not usually be able to contact them. But, most of us know that the spread of this idea is much larger than anyone could have imagined.
Many of the lead characters use social media websites as a way to "escape" the real world. Tim Mooney (played by Ansel Elgort) has turned the world of virtual video games after his mom ditches town and leaves Tim and his father on their own as she gets remarried. Making an impact on his life, Tim has an epiphany and quits playing football, as he finds it to be nothing more than a hassle in life. Because of this, Tim loses a lot of his old friends and now only relies on his game to make it through the day. Without this game, would Tim even be a character in the story, or would it already be a lost cause?
Brandy Beltmeyer, played by Kaitlyn Dever, is basically a prisoner to her own home. Her mom (Jennifer Garner) makes sure that her daughter doesn't fall into the "internet craze" by constantly checking her phone and Facebook page to make sure that she's safe. Not only does she feel robbed of an opportunity than practically every other kid her age has, but she can't even hold a stable relationship without her mom getting cold feet and ending said relationship before it even starts.
Brandy's only escape is to a Tumblr page that she's managed to keep secret from her mom. Here, she can open up to whoever is looking and show off who she really is, since her mom robs her of that in the real world. Garner's character, who's so focused on making sure her daughter doesn't get harmed by someone on the internet doesn't seem to understand that, in this day and age, the internet has become an integrable part of everyday life.
Not only that, but the internet is almost a necessity today, especially when it comes to forming relationships. Nowadays, people seem to be almost afraid to have physical interactions with others and instead resort to texting or online group chats to do it. Sitting behind a monitor is a much easier way to communicate with someone than talking to them in person. There's much less at stake and why go through all that fuss and embarrassment when it can be exclusively between you and another person?
Men, Women & Children uses Tim and Brandy as its platform to balance between the modern-day romance in the real world and the virtual world, even though both still fall into some social media trappings. They are clearly in a much more traditional relationship, whereas the cliched football/cheerleader couple that is another angle to the film feels so much more artificial. For starters, Chris, the football player, has the mindset that sex must be the way it's presented in the pornos he watches. As his tastes in porn become more extreme and strange, he starts feeling unsatisfied from a sexual standpoint until he finds something even more "out of the norm".
Meanwhile, Hannah, the cheerleader, is your typical sixteen year-old who isn't afraid to whore herself out to become famous. She, with the help of her mother, (played wonderfully by Judy Greer), start up a website with provocative pictures of her scattered throughout the site. While this is sad, it is something that most definitely happens nowadays. But, the fact that the mother herself is in on it only adds to the fact that the internet hasn't just changed the younger generation, but also the next one up as well. Bored parents or lost souls also use the vast sea known as the internet to calm their sexual frustrations, but the film shows how this does in fact lead to an emptier lifestyle if used incorrectly.
The one scene that drives this point home is presented late in the film from Adam Sandler, that I will not spoil. But, the scene goes to show just how distant we all feel because of the fact that the internet has turned most of us into soulless sex objects. We're all turning into a massive corporation on our own, one run by sex and public appearances. Most of us feel empty because we live in an era of minimal physical relationships and fake ones that we form on the internet. We don't know any other way to react to these situations other than to run and hide our emotions behind a computer screen and take hours on end thinking of how to respond to messages. And the worst part is that most people either don't realize this, or they just don't care.
While Men, Women & Children might not be a perfect film (it has some stories that could have ultimately been cut and the voiceover is absolutely dreadful), it opens up a new layer to the tired topic that is social media in modern-day life today. The film skirts towards melodrama and pretentiousness a few times, but the film is an important one, that's for sure. And it doesn't just rip on social networks; it also shows how they might not be as terrifying as some might make them out to be. The main idea is to use these tools wisely and to adapt into this lifestyle instead of trying to barge into it. Because, even though some people might been tired of the whole internet age that we now live in (myself included), we have to eventually accept it for what it is and move on, as it has now become a part in most everyone's lives today.
But I can't help but think that this one could have been a true game-changer had it been released a few years earlier.