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Men, Women & Children (Blu-ray Review)

10 Jan, 2015 By: John Latchem

Street 1/13/15
Box Office $0.7 million
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for strong sexual content including graphic dialogue throughout-some involving teens, and for language.
Stars Rosemarie DeWitt, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, Dean Norris, Adam Sandler, Ansel Elgort, Kaitlyn Dever, J.K. Simmons, Dennis Haysbert. Narrated by Emma Thompson.

Director Jason Reitman’s sixth film is a low-key affair closer in sensibility to his previous film, Labor Day, than the quirky energy of his earlier work. As a result, fans of Juno or Up in the Air might find this latest effort somewhat underwhelming.

Based on the novel by Chad Kultgen, Men, Women & Children offers a character study about the effect of the Internet on disparate residents of one of those Texas towns that revolves around high school football.

The characters are all loosely connected to each other in various ways that come to light as their stories interweave along the lines of a low-level Altman drama. The human stories are juxtaposed by the ongoing travels of the Voyager 1 space probe as it races out of the Solar System and looks back on Earth as a tiny blue speck buried by the emptiness of space.

It’s an interesting statement on the ultimate significance of the lives of ordinary human beings, but it also sets up a tongue-in-cheek narrative device in which Emma Thompson describes absurd situations as if they were ordinary straightforward (the Adam Sandler character’s computer being too corrupted by malware to download porn being a highlight). This dark comedic element contrasts sharply with several storylines that have potentially tragic outcomes, giving the film a disjointed tone. The film’s attempts to tie the varied stories to the central thesis are either too fragmented or too subtle for its own good.

The overriding motif is one of communication, and the barriers people erect between them despite having access to the entire world at their fingertips through groundbreaking technology. These aren’t new ideas, but they are manifested throughout the film by a gamut of characters who fulfill a different archetype of the Internet era. These include a teen addicted to porn, a married couple using dating sites to have affairs, an overbearing mother monitoring everything her daughter does online, a mother running a sexually suggestive site to promote her daughter’s acting career, a teenager suffering depression as he keeps track of his mother after she abandoned the family.

The aspect of all this that appeals most to Reitman, according to an interview in the Blu-ray’s primary featurette, is the fact that the space probes contain a record of various cultural milestones, as if humans are more interested in reaching out to alien life than they are to each other.

That featurette covers the film’s production but mostly focuses on the themes of the film. Another featurette focuses on the film’s use of visual effects, particularly pop-up graphics to simulate each characters’ Internet usage.

The Blu-ray also includes nine minutes of deleted scenes, including an expunged subplot involving two supporting characters who are now hardly in the finished film.

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