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Men, Women & Children: Blu-ray + Digital HD Review

Men, Women & Children (2014) movie poster Men, Women & Children

Theatrical Release: October 1, 2014 / Running Time: 119 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Jason Reitman / Writers: Jason Reitman, Erin Cressida Wilson (screenplay); Chad Kultgen (novel)

Cast: Adam Sandler (Don Truby), Jennifer Garner (Patricia Beltmeyer), Rosemarie DeWitt (Helen Truby), Judy Greer (Donna Clint), Dean Norris (Kent Mooney), Emma Thompson (Narrator), Timothée Chalamet (Danny Vance), Olivia Crocicchia (Hannah Clint), Kaitlyn Dever (Brandy Beltmeyer), Ansel Elgort (Tim Mooney), Katherine Hughes (Brooke Benton), Elena Kampouris (Allison Doss), Will Peltz (Brandon Lender), Travis Trope (Chris Truby), David Denman (Jim Vance), Dennis Haysbert (Secretluvur), J.K. Simmons (Allison's Dad), Colby Arps (Tanner), Shane Lynch (Angelique), Jason Douglas (Ray Beltmeyer), Phil LaMarr (Shrink)

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An acclaimed feature debut (Thank You for Smoking) followed by back-to-back Best Picture Oscar nominees (Juno, Up in the Air) made Jason Reitman look like one of the most important filmmakers working today.
Though young and easily accused of nepotism (his father Ivan has directed such comedy hits as Ghostbusters and Kindergarten Cop), the younger Reitman stood out for his ability to tell a meaningful, human story in a funny yet poignant way. That knack was on display again in Reitman's next film, 2011's Young Adult. But despite good reviews, that acerbic comedy divided audiences, struck out at the box office, and ended its director's streak of accolades.

Reitman's next move was anticipated by many. But Labor Day, an arresting drama about an escaped convict hiding out with a broken family in 1987 New England, wound up not being an awards contender (apart from a single Golden Globe nomination) in its narrowly qualifying 2013 release. When it opened wide shortly before Valentine's Day 2014, it was hammered by critics who just couldn't get on board with the far-fetched central conceit of the Joyce Maynard novel being adapted.

The wait for redemption and what could be described as a return to form for Reitman would not be long. But after gracing many a list of anticipated 2014 movies and being foreseen as an awards contender, Men, Women & Children premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival early last September to jeers. Its subsequent fall theatrical release was a disaster of a whole different order than Young Adult and Labor Day. Paramount Pictures' rollout stopped abruptly when the film failed to find in audience in a little over 600 theaters. Ending its brief domestic run with $705,908, Men, Women & Children goes down as one of the biggest flops of last or any year. The performance, which suggests the studio should never have expanded as it did, casts doubt over Reitman's drawing power, with three consecutive commercial misses now matching the three hits that preceded them.

The world is obsessed with their cell phones and other gadgets in Jason Reitman's "Men, Women & Children."

Adapted from Chad Kultgen's 2011 novel of the same name, Men, Women & Children opens with shots of satellites orbiting in space and narration by Emma Thompson that puts our miniscule human problems into perspective. Despite that bold opening, those miniscule human problems -- specifically, the problems of one ordinary suburban Texas community -- are absolutely the focus of this film.

Men, Women & Children aims to be for technology what Traffic was for drugs and Crash was for racism. You might wonder how technology could be a widespread problem comparable to drugs and racism, but this movie is determined to enlighten you on that point with its handful of complementary, overlapping narratives involving just a few families whose teenagers attend the same high school.

Star football player Tim Mooney (The Fault in Our Stars' Ansel Elgort) has raised a fuss by walking away from the team, calling sports pointless after having encountered Carl Sagen's Pale Blue Dot. Tim, whose mother recently walked out on his father (Dean Norris), now spends most of his time on Guild Wars, an MMORPG. In "RL", Tim connects with Brandy Beltmeyer (Kaitlyn Dever), a classmate whose mother Patricia (Jennifer Garner) is overprotective to a fault. Patricia not only subjects Brandy to regular inspections of her phone and Facebook account (unfriending those whose comments she objects to), she also tracks her movement and logs her every keystroke with an ominous device. Mom deletes Tim's Facebook message to Brandy before she can see it, but that is not enough to deter them from meeting in secret and enjoying each other's company.

Tim and Brandy's chaste romance and online vices are far tamer than what the other kids at school are up to. Stardom-driven Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia) has a personal website run by her mother (Judy Greer) that borders upon softcore pornography with its fulfillment of privately-requested scantily-clad photo shoots. While fellow cheerleader Allison (Elena Kampouris) wrestles with an eating disorder and loses her virginity, Hannah hooks up with football player Chris (Travis Tope), for whom years of numbing porn exposure have robbed standard sex of its pleasures.

Chris appears to have inherited his habits from his father Don (a bearded Adam Sandler), who has taken to costly escorts as an escape from his loveless marriage at a time when his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) has been meeting men off online affair service Ashley Madison.

Unhappily married Don Truby (Adam Sandler) goes looking for escorts online. Overprotective Patricia Beltmeyer (Jennifer Garner) monitors everything her daughter does online.

Men, Women & Children invokes extremes in its depiction of this microcosm. It's timely, it's relevant, and, though obviously exaggerated,
it's reasonably realistic. This film does a much better job of exploring the same territory that 2013's Disconnect did. That atrocious drama, which languished in limited release (where it grossed twice as much as Men, Women & Children in only a quarter of the theaters), earned decent reviews and currently sits pretty with a 7.6 average user rating on IMDb. Like it, this film considers the rampant technology in our lives and the impact it has.

Men, Women & Children is ambitious, unnerving, and depressing. Its stories will provoke disbelief, anger, and dismay. Though it admirably opts to depict something closer to reality than "Friday Night Lights" and your typical PG-13 mainstream teen comedy, too many of its characters are caricatures, painted with brushstrokes much too broad. Garner's character is especially over-the-top, approaching cartoon villain with her excessive surveillance and encroachment on her daughter's social life. On the other hand, that daughter and the ex-football player are believable and sympathetic. A movie just about them might have moved and resonated. Instead, it's the only sweet note in this overwhelmingly dour presentation, which can't resist going for some of the same big, melodramatic notes as Disconnect.

Reitman's directorial skill has never been in doubt. The questions that his critically derided latest two films have raised regard the stories that he is telling. He is not immune to such criticisms, since not only did he choose to film these books, but Reitman himself is the one doing the adapting, although this time, he shares screenplay with Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary, Chloe). Reitman finds creative ways to incorporate texting and Internet browsing visually. He nimbly moves between storylines, never confusing or getting the lines crossed. He draws some pretty good performances from his talented cast, as he has before. The only thing he cannot do is find a prevailing meaning or message to these different plots. Many of the storylines don't even get proper ends, leaving us to wonder if redemption will ever occur.

In fairness, the film already stretches believability by developing these tales as quickly as it does, seemingly in a matter of weeks or so. And no endings, happy or sad, would feel appropriate for most of these accelerated, exaggerated interactions. Still, you're left wondering what is the point. Is humanity this doomed and desensitized by technology? And if it's all occurring on just this pale blue dot, does it even matter?

Donna Clint (Judy Greer) takes and publishes provocative photos of her teenage daughter Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia). Helen Truby (Rosemarie DeWitt) claims she's staying with her sister on night she meets men off of Ashley Madison.

I appreciate that Reitman is at least one of the few filmmakers willing to use film for such thought and commentary at a time when most of what the industry is holding up as exemplary are straightforward biopics and most of what people are seeing is simply escapist entertainment. At the same time, this is easily Reitman's least satisfying film to date and perhaps the first sign that he needs a better source text or another sharp Diablo Cody script to get back on track with critics and audiences. If he instead wants to keep making films that speak to him, then he should keep doing what he's doing.

After being completely ignored by the entire award season, Men, Women & Children recently hit DVD and Blu-ray + Digital HD, the latter edition being the one reviewed here.

Men, Women & Children Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.78:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Portuguese,
Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: January 13, 2015
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($29.99 SRP) and Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Paramount treats Men, Women & Children to terrific picture quality on Blu-ray. The 1.78:1 presentation showcases amazing detail and sharpness. That it can impress when we're all so accustomed to new movies looking great on Blu-ray is especially admirable. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack also satisfies, with dialogue staying crisp throughout and music nicely complementing it. Paramount includes a bevy of foreign language options as well.

Director/screenwriter Jason Reitman talks about technology's role in our modern world. Title designer Gareth Smith shares the screen with textspeak as he discusses the graphics he made for the film in "Seamless Interface."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Three HD bonus features are included on the Blu-ray.

"Virtual Intimacy" (13:29) is a making-of featurette which collects cast

and crew comments, more on the movie's themes than the movie itself. There's a lot of technological doom and gloom reflecting the ages of those speaking.

"Seamless Interface" (8:29) lets title designer Gareth Smith describe his work on the graphics used to convey technology in the film. Clearly, a lot of thought went into the visuals, both in terms of relaying information and in accurately reflecting how people use technology today.

Finally, we get a deleted scenes section (9:49), which includes a deleted storyline involving another cheerleader, Brooke (Katherine Hughes), and another jock, Danny (Timothée Chalamet), who start a relationship and begin experimenting sexually. This gives us another appearance of David Denman (still best known as Roy from "The Office"). There are also three additional scenes, most notable a father-son one between Tim (Ansel Elgort) and Kent (Dean Norris).

Like other Paramount Blu-rays, this one streams trailers when inserted, currently promoting Selma, Boyhood, and Rudderless in random order.

The striking colorful poster art serves the static, silent menu screen. The BD supports bookmarks, but otherwise does not resume unfinished playback.

The lone insert within the eco-friendly keepcase supplies a code for Digital HD UltraViolet. Or it's supposed to, anyway. Mine was suspiciously blank.

Teen couple Tim Mooney (Ansel Elgort) and Brandy Beltmeyer (Kaitlyn Dever) have an old-fashioned sense of romance that involves meeting in secret and library floor face-to-faces.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Men, Women & Children does not add much to the strong resume of director Jason Reitman. Setting career-lows commercially and critically, this drama is not without some clear value. But it's probably not a film you'll like or leave feeling good about.

Paramount's Blu-ray provides a splendid feature presentation and an okay couple of extras. I'd recommend one viewing, but don't expect another Up in the Air or even something resembling Adam Sandler's usually very good dramatic work.

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Jason Reitman: Labor DayYoung AdultJuno |
Jennifer Garner: Dallas Buyers ClubButter | Ansel Elgort: Divergent | Dean Norris: Prom
Written by Erin Cressida Wilson: Chloe | Written by Chad Kultgen: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Judy Greer: The DescendantsJeff, Who Lives at Home | Olivia Crocicchia: Terri | Kaitlyn Dever: Bad Teacher
TrafficThird PersonThe DetailsThe Ice Storm | New: HornsReach Me

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Reviewed January 18, 2015.



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