Men, Women & Children (2014): Internet under surveillance

Men, Women & Children is a film that had caught my attention when I first saw the trailer but that I never had gotten around to watch when it was in theaters. I got a second chance to view it when I came across the title on Netflix. The film is directed by Jason Reitman, renown for Up In The Air starring George Clooney and Anna Kendrick released in 2009 which was successful.

Simply put, Men, Women & Children is a drama focusing on Internet usage. Specifically, it gives an insight on how teenagers and their parents get involved on social media and the web. Each character leads a double life in contrasting ways by having a secret online persona. They have a  sort of dark passenger-Yes, this is a Dexter reference- that lives in cyberspace and are not necessarily meant to be seen by others.

We are first introduced to Don Truby (Adam Sandler) whom the narrator confesses, right off the bat, has frequent escapades to his son’s room to watch porn on his computer. Emma Thompson narrates the movie in a documentary-style, in the sense where she reveals some of the characters histories and thoughts which I thought was well done. Sandler’s character and his ‘practice’ is his secret, stemming from his relationship with his wife played by Rosemarie DeWitt which is silently falling apart. Mr. Truby’s lust becomes only fueled by images on screens and escorts. In his real life, this poses a problem  which translates into an inability to connect on a  more intimate level with his wife. This struggle is also felt by his own son Chris, a high school student and star player on the football team. Chris who has been watching porn since he was twelve years old finds himself unable to form a deeper connection with his love interest, the popular-girl Hannah. She is shadowed by her mother and personal photographer Donna (Judy Greer) who manages her website that showcases her figure in various attire and poses with the purpose of promoting her acting. Sexualization of youths and sexuality are both clear themes that are brought up by showing the sometimes sinuous ways it is depicted on the Internet. The movie also evokes the feelings of uncertainty and lack of knowledge that people might have when trying to define the contours or rather the limits of the web.

Then there is Brandy, a responsible and down to earth teenager whose Internet activity is highly monitored by her mother. Jennifer Garner plays this conservative and overprotective parent who only sees the web’s darkest corners. Brandy’s mother represents the voice of fearful parents who have an extreme need to protect their children and do so by controlling their devices. Indeed, Garner’s character exhibits an extreme behaviour; she is an overbearing parent, as she oversees and keeps track of Brandy’s every single online interaction. She acts this way because the fear that her teenage daughter is targeted and will be the prey to predators consumes her. Her constant worrying over her daughter’s safety on the Internet causes resentment and brings an unpreventable confrontation. On the other hand, Tim (Ansel Elgort) is a former football player that developed a passion for an RPG game, to the dismay of his teammates and father. He becomes isolated and has difficulty finding people he can actually talk to about his real life struggles, as his online friends aren’t seriously interested.

One of the things that make the film remarkable is the attention to detail in the aesthetic, especially in regards to the networking sites which are recognizable and the actors actually use these interfaces. There is also the fact that these four distinct families’ struggles are convincingly woven. Their stories overlap in a realistic manner as the teenagers go to the same school and evolve in relatively similar circles; some relationships are built while others fall apart. Against all odds, what is a source of pain or conflict is what brings them together. Internet appears to be both something that can be dangerous but also freeing. By peeking through the lives of these different characters we may realize that we navigate the web in certain ways without always grasping: it’s vastness, it’s permanent nature and people’s underlying motives.

My rating: 3.7/5

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