Film of the week: Men, Women & Children

Film review pix 4/12/14

Film review pix 4/12/14 - Credit: Archant

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Online social networking may have bridged cultural, racial and class divides at the swipe of a touch screen, but it has killed the art of conversation.

Complex, fragile thoughts are condensed into 140 characters and vicious rumours are circulated as undeniable fact behind the mask of an anonymous avatar.

The days when trolls were merely shaggy-haired creatures from Norse and Scandinavian mythology are, alas, long gone.

Men, Women & Children is a timely drama about a disparate community of parents and offspring, who are coming to terms with the grip that technology has on their ability to interact and communicate effectively.

No amount of smiley-faced emoticons or Like buttons can disguise the melancholy that lingers beneath every keystroke of writer-director Jason Reitman's sixth feature, based on the book of the same name by Chad Kultgen.

There are few reasons to LOL in Reitman's script, co-written by Erin Cressida Wilson: infidelity, angst, exploitation, pornography addiction, loneliness and self-harm abound.

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This is a portrait of modern society: blemishes, warts, stretch marks and all.

A languid narration by Emma Thompson introduces us to Don Truby (Adam Sandler) and his wife Helen (Rosemarie DeWitt), whose marriage hangs by a thread.

He surfs adult sites on his son's computer while she sows the seeds of an affair with a mystery man with the screen name Secretluvur (Dennis Haysbert).

Their son Chris (Travis Tope), the school's star quarterback, exhibits 'a level of deviance well outside societal norms'.

Fellow footballer Tim (Ansel Elgort) quits the team after his mother walks out on his father Kent (Dean Norris).

Tim becomes a social outcast, but is slowly drawn to reclusive classmate Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever), whose overly protective mother Patrica (Jennifer Garner) insists on monitoring her daughter's PC history, Facebook pages and movements.

'Take your phone, honey... so I can track you,' chirps the matriarch.

Meanwhile, classmate Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia) poses for provocative photos on a website run by her fame-hungry mother (Judy Greer) and fellow cheerleader Allison (Elena Kampouris) risks serious physical harm with her extreme dieting, which goes unnoticed by her father (JK Simmons).

IMHO, Men, Women & Children is an uneven drama about a world that has been enslaved rather than liberated by the technology at its grubby fingerprints.

Adult characters are malnourished and largely unsympathetic.

Their indiscretions only pique our interest when they impact directly on younger cast, who deliver GR8 performances.

Elgort, who made teenage girls swoon in The Fault In Our Stars, is particularly moving as a prodigal son struggling with abandonment and his on-screen romance with Dever follows a credible and unexpected trajectory.

Fates of these sons and daughters stop us from saying TTFN to Reitman's film before the two hours are up.

*** (3 stars)

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