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Men, Women and Children

It’s not hard to look at the culture we live in and conclude that we’re heading to hell in a handbasket, losing touch with primary virtues and substituting ephemera. It seems that technology is getting ahead of us, making us its servants rather than serving us.

But people have been fretting about the impending collapse of civilization for as long as there have been civilizations. There were those who saw Gutenberg’s printing press as an instrument of the devil for bringing information to inferior intellects that couldn’t process it. Civilization has certainly changed since then, but not many would argue that it’s been for the worse. Humanity is adaptable that way.

I offer this as perspective before you see Men, Women and Children, a movie seemingly designed to bring out the Luddite in every viewer. Leave your smart phone at home; on the way out of the movie you may be tempted to smash it beneath your heel.

Set in one of those Texas towns were life revolves around the high school’s Friday night football game, Men, Women and Children looks at the struggles of a handful of teens and their parents to reconcile the lives they lead with the image of life they get from reality TV shows and the internet. And it’s not a happy story.

Parents are sexually dissatisfied because they don’t enjoy the kind of unreasonable passion with spouse of many years that characters in movies and TV shows seem to have. Kids grow up with the concentrated extremes of hard core porn, accepting what they see as standard behavior. A mother who failed in her shot at “celebrity” passes her warped values on to her daughter, who amplifies them.

At the other edge of the spectrum, a mother obsessed with the lurking dangers of the internet polices her level-headed daughter with such unrelenting paranoia that she cuts the girl off from her peers.

As directed by Jason Reitman (adapting the novel by Chad Kultgen), this stuff is largely treated with a lighter touch than it may sound, at least until some melodramatic later scenes that seem designed to give the story some kind of resolution. On a continuum between two cautionary teen movies of recent generations, it’s closer to Fast Times at Ridgemont High than to Kids, but not by enough. It lacks the salaciousness of the later, but also most of the humor of the former. (It also features a subplot that seem almost wholly lifted from Fast Times, thought that’s for the lawyers to decide.) Nonetheless, an ensemble cast including such light comic players as Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer and narrator Emma Thompson does what it can to mitigate the ham-handedness of the material.

It’s smoothly made and depressing as hell, though it’s effect isn’t likely to stay with you for long.

Watch the trailer for Men, Women & Children

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