Jason Reitman’s Men, Women & Children has become the critical pariah of 2014, earning near-universal condemnation at its Toronto premiere and an abysmal 29% on Rotten Tomatoes. The main criticism is directed at its condescending, alarmist approach to social media, as though it might as well be titled Tumblr Madness.
I’m not convinced that the intent is to chide, despite Emma Thompson’s supercilious, superfluous narration and an introduction that hustles through a list of dysfunctional teenagers/parents and the software that ostensibly shackles them (video games, social media, thinspiration sites, pornography, etc).
Despite being one of the few films to authentically depict the modern ubiquity of social media, it’s remarkably old-fashioned. The root of the symptoms presented here isn’t Facebook or Guild Wars, but a lack of interconnectivity between its middle-class characters (plus neglectful parents and the sexist status quo). Reitman’s presenting traditional problems in a modern context, rather than directing blasé blame at “The Internet.”
This doesn’t entirely forgive the film’s flaws – an overstuffed cast that pulls focus from the one great story (the one involving Ansel Elgort and Kaitlyn Dver) or an over-insistence on a potentially effective “Pale Blue Dot” motif – but it explains its overarching atmosphere of malaise.