Quick! Shut down your laptop, turn off your mobile phone, find a hole and hide in it! The internet is out to destroy us and everyone we care about, love will never be the same and we can never truly connect with one another ever again. That is at least if we are to believe this mash up of online morality lessons delivered in the guise of comedy-drama in the adaptation of Chad Kultgen’s acclaimed novel, Men, Women and Children.
Directed by Jason Reitman, the man behind Juno and Up in the Air, hopes were high but after the opening moments of pale blue dots and nuclear families, we are already feeling thoroughly scolded for owning smartphones, seeking love online and god forbid allowing our children to go online without constant supervision.
A cynical start but what could have been a brave critique of the effect our dependence on technology is having on our lives and relationships, is instead delivered as a preaching and sombre polemic. Admirable efforts made to convey our online selves onto the screen with pop-up text messages and zoomed in browser windows, overlaid drop down menus detailing preference on breast size and downtown topiary – because y’know we’re all oversexed and underlaid and it’s all down to the internet.
Teenagers certainly get the toughest deal whether it’s struggling to get an erection without the help of a husky voiced secretary on a web cam, the baffling perils of sexting, inventing tales of imagined sexual encounters or searching for tips to maintain an eating disorder. There are big issues played out so a nod must be given for the boldness to acknowledge the problems that do indeed plague the young through social media and online, but when piled together in one attack, it becomes heavy-handed. Particularly when framed by the YouTube video, Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot, reminding us just how insignificant we all are.
As the downbeat father who resorts to masturbating furiously in his son’s bedroom after his own computer is too encrusted in malware to function, Adam Sandler is placed in another role that adds more gusto to the fact that just because you give him a beard will not make him a convincing addition to a ‘serious’ film. Jennifer Garner is another overbearing mother meets Interpol, tracking her daughter’s every keystroke while Judy Greer is at the other end of the scale, naively photographing her daughter without thinking of the consequences for both her and her overdeveloped teen. Emma Thompson’s plumy and saucy voiceover is a welcome light relief but perhaps underused though not as much so as JK Simmons, grossly robbed of screentime as the poor father of another teenage victim of the internet age.
Despite cleverly intertwined storylines and a strong intergenerational spread, it seems Men, Women and Children had the moment to make comment booted up and ready to go but crashed. It’s not a revelatory proclamation, we’re all well aware of the inherent problems for ourselves and our children by life online. But there must be some hope or positivity to be shared by now as digital integrates more and more into our life? As credits roll and the majority of our characters are just as depressed and weary as they were at the start, Men, Women and Children would suggest not.
View the full festival programme online: www.bfi.org.uk/lff