Oh, what a tangled World Wide Web we weave. Such is the focus of "Men, Women & Children," Jason Reitman's ensemble drama about the intersecting lives — online and off — of various teens and adults in a suburban Texas town.
Despite the topical subject and talented cast, however, early reviews say the film suffers from the same problem as its characters: It just can't connect.
The Times' Betsy Sharkey describes Reitman's film as an "anti-Internet screed" that "plays like one of those email rants you're better off not sending." She continues: "What nags is why a writer-director usually so canny in capturing cultural evolutions, so shrewd in probing the zeitgeist, so humane in his humor about mankind's failings would turn so reactionary in taking on — or more precisely taking down — a computer-dependent society."
The incisive filmmaker of "Juno," "Up in the Air" and "Young Adult" is "mostly invisible in 'Men, Women & Children,'" Sharkey says, "leaving little to recommend this clichéd vision of a virtual world."
The New York Times' A.O. Scott finds "MWC" uneven, writing, "As is often the case with multiplotted movies like this one, not every story sustains the same level of interest. Some are too neatly packaged as cautionary tales, but others manage at least to hint at the confusion and stickiness of real life." On the plus side, Reitman "has a knack for casting and for drawing out each actor's gifts," particularly Adam Sandler, Rosemary DeWitt and Judy Greer.
But it's also a muddled movie, Scott says: "Veering between alarmism and cautious reassurance — between technohysteria and shrugging, nothing-new-under-the-sun resignation — 'Men, Women & Children' succumbs to the confusion it tries to illuminate."
The Associated Press' Jake Coyle says, "If ever there was a movie that needed a window to be opened, a blast of fresh air to be let in, it's Jason Reitman's 'Men, Women & Children.'" Although there are "many smartly observed scenes here that capture familiar glimpses of today's technology interactions," the film as a whole "veers toward the extreme, hammering home [its] heavy histrionics."
To many critics, among them Peter Sobczynski of RogerEbert.com, the film simply seems out of touch. He writes, "A potentially interesting premise is handled so badly that what might have been a provocative drama quickly and irrevocably devolves into the technological equivalent of the old anti-dope chestnut 'Reefer Madness,' squandering the efforts of a strong and talented cast struggling mightily to make something of the ridiculously trite material."
"Men, Women & Children" does have its supporters, though. The New York Post's Lou Lumenick declares it "a darkly comic, sexually charged drama about suburban ennui in the age of iPhones and iPads," while the Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy says it "skillfully navigates through the personal melodramas of many characters with a nice sense of balance and a sharp appreciation of generational differences."