The internet is a sticky place. Its portrayal in mass media since William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer has been one of heightened worry and suspicion. Outside of university essays and articles by workers of Silicon Valley themselves it is rarely depicted as a tool of fortune and benefits. Transcendence drummed the old message of “beware” while Dave Eggers recently wrote about the evils of social media in The Circle. Sometimes they have a point, depending on what your point of view is and if you work in the industry or not, but the message itself rarely changes and has become the beaten dead horse at the back of the paddock. In 1994 Carl Sagan published his world famous essay Pale Blue Dot. Speaking about the insignificance of man against the backdrop of the universe, Carl presumably hoped that it would be a cause for new inspiration and it’s standing on the best seller list suggested this was the case. However, one imagines he would not have considered a moody teenager using it as an excuse to drop out of his school football team twenty years later in order to spend two thousand hours playing a RPG online. What’s even more unbelievable is a person under the age of twenty even reading the book.
Men, Women & Children, Jason Reitman’s latest, is a cavalcade of nonsensical situations and parent-knows-best, covering the same ground now so worn the topsoil has disappeared. Take for instance Mrs. ___, played frostily by Jennifer Garner, a twenty-first techno redo of Carrie’s mother without the Jesus overdose. She monitors her daughters every action online “to make sure that you’re not in danger.” It’s a cliché of over-parenting, of reading one too many stalker stories or ebay scams and assuming the very worst of literally everyone who touches a computer. The husband appears once, like a mild fog, to tut-tut her behaviour but just as quickly he is gone and she is more stubborn than the worst mule.
The film is a series of moody teenagers, one after the other, taking part in storylines featuring sex and anorexia and desires to be popular, among other concerns that occupy the minds of young adults. Serious issues exist within the constructs Reitman has placed up – a mother happily takes naked snaps of her far-too-young daughter in exchange for an anonymous payment – but here they’re so dull and contrived, like the worst teen comedy. Take a scene around the middle of the film featuring an anorexic girl and a player on the school football team: it is supposed to be rather confronting and upsetting but given how bland both characters are, it’s much like two cardboard cut-outs engaging in even thinner conversation.
This is the crux of the problem with Men, Women & Children. Reitman’s purpose with this film is to discuss something worrying about our dependence with technology – girls call each other “slut” via text while keeping a straight face; the aforementioned ex-footballer receives anonymous messages from team fans, insulting him for quitting – yet there’s no conversation occurring. Characters are mere post-it notes of teenage complaints and possess the same amount of depth. Their parents are boringly absent, background characters brought to the foreground and given additional running time. The big event of the film, the former jock devoting his life to a computer game, is laughable in its sincerity. Yes, these people do exist but the manner in which it is dealt with here is akin to Reitman juggling so many plates that he stumbles and every single one is dropped, smashing into tiny pieces on the ground.
Reitman’s latest is burdensome. Filled with stock characters the conversation of how dangerous can the internet be – in Reitman’s world it can’t be anything but – is brought back a couple of years. Studies are being conducted, and have been for some time, regarding young children and teenagers’ usage of computers and the internet and if it is stunting any learning development, if at all. Many scholars have already shouted about the dangers of online porn warping the teenage male mind to the point where they are building unrealistic depictions of women and sex. These are all important issues that are still being discussed with great depth from both sides of the argument but here in this film they are so reduced that by the end of the film you’re still clueless as to what the point of it all was.
Nicholas Brodie - follow Nick on Twitter here: @fodusempire