In the effort to get caught up on a backlog of trailers via our Yes, No, Maybe So. series, I asked the team which they'd like to do. I accidentally got two Men Women and Children completed before I had a chance to assign it as it were. So here are both Andrew and Matthew, both Maybe Sos but leaning in opposite directions to sound off on Jason Reitman’s upcoming Men, Women & Children based on the 2011 Chad Kultgen novel. It’s his immediate follow-up to last year’s Labor Day, which everyone is trying to forget about. (Successfully?) Will it return him to former critical glories. The film goes wide in the US on October 17th (facing off against Brad Pitt in Fury), shortly after its TIFF bow. Let’s make snap judgements about the trailer after the jump - Nathaniel.
Double-side breakdown after the jump
• The cast – Sure, with the exception of Emma Thompson, who narrates the film, none of these actors are immediate ticket-sellers but it’s great to see an ensemble focused film with so many fine, undervalued actors: Rosemarie DeWitt, Judy Greer, Dean Norris, Kaitlyn Dever, Dennis Haysbert and more.
• Jennifer Garner deserves her own bullet for two reasons. One, no film has yet to make good on the show-carrying excellence displayed in Alias but we won't give up hope and Two, Reitman did direct Garner's best big screen work in Juno. Here at The Film Experience we're fonder of Jennifer than her husband, so why shouldn't she have a career rebirth, too?
• This face Rosemarie DeWitt makes is the exact face I make every time I'm faced with some silly internet dilemma. It would be great if the film manages to be incisive about the real minutae of internet life, but....
• I'll admit, that trippily sedated cover of "I Feel Love" is totally captivating.
• Happy to see Jennifer Garner keep up her re-emergence after that brief, discouraging period of (only) playing Mrs. Ben Affleck during red carpet interviews, telecast speeches, and SNL monologues. I think she's oddly underemployed and annoyingly under-tested for someone with her easy, everyday likability, not to mention such moving and easily accessible onscreen emotionality. Hoping for a change of pace here, especially since her best scenes in Reitman's Juno easily rank with the finest supporting work of its year, or any other for that matter.
• Speaking of egregiously overlooked supporting performances of the 2000s, Rosemarie DeWitt deserved just as much of the praise and prizes as Anne Hathaway did for Rachel Getting Married.
• Ensemble. Having Jennifer's 13 Going on 30 rival/high-heeled viper/generally valuable team player Judy Greer, Breaking Bad's Dean Norris, Far From Heaven's Dennis Haysbert, and that trusty Reitman regular, the all-around dependable J.K. Simmons filling out the supporting front never hurt a project...
• I am doubtful because, for some reason, filmmakers have a history of trouble making modern technology palatable for the screen. I don’t know what it is, but in an ineffable way it’s almost as if emailing and texting is just not cinematic. There’s no telling if the trailer’s effect is one used throughout the film but it's almost exclusively people responding to their technology which won't play to Reitman's strength. His primary skill is making actors pop when they're acting with each other.
• Am I the only one getting a slight sense of supercilousness? It's a potential issue with any film telling amessage and Kultgen's novel about technology destroying our lives is rather message heavy. This tag at the end sure is an eye roll!
• The tone of the trailer is all about telegraphing quite deliberately how IMPORTANT its themes about the internet ruining lives is… which might be exhausting at two hours.
• Between Chef's tolerable, Tweet-centric narrative and the lame reliance on social media "storytelling" in this month's Frank, I can already see myself getting sick enough of The Internet-as-Plot Device by the time Men, Women & Children rolls along, especially since it looks like it's being, uh, abundantly employed here as another belabored emblem of The Way We Live Now, that's only getting more reductive through ceaseless repetition. A lot of screens in this one.
• Ugh, that shot of Ansel Elgort walking in a different direction than the text-bubbled bodies of Everyone Else in his high school hallway. Do you get that he's "different" yet?
• Is Judy Greer's daughter auditioning for a show called "America's Next Big Celebrity"? Something like that? The name itself is pretty lazy parody, as far as that goes.
• Lost in translation? Kultgen's novel isn't what I'd call great prose but his best asset is his ability to delve into the psychological state of his characters vis a vis their dependency on the internet. Heavy message-based themes like these tend to work better in prose than in cinema.
• Jason Reitman. I’m largely apathetic to Reitman but, other than Up in the Air which I loathed, I liked his first three films to varying degrees. His straightforward directing style isn't an issue, necessarily, but the best moments of each of his films have been character-specific which makes me wary of something that needs THEMES to land.
• Ensemble dramas. I love Traffic but my antannae are raised every time an ensemble film about a large spate of people tied together by coincidences is announced. It's too well worn a trope now. Can this one avoid the hokiness of so many similarly based ensemble dramas of this century? Time will tell.
• I've already read more than one post describing this as the "Millennial American Beauty," an iffy claim that the trailer only seems to substantiate, what with all the sexual meddling and suburban secret-spreading amongst Addled Adults and their Disgruntled Progeny. I think Beauty still dazzles as a cinematic experience, but the chauvinism, muddled messages, and plastic bag imagery have not aged well in the slightest.
• Whenever Adam Sandler "Goes Serious" (Punch-Drunk Love, Funny People), it tends to verge all too typically on the Sludgy Sad Sack side of things. His totally brief snippets in this trailer imply a person with a bit more curiosity and potential intrigue. I wouldn't say I'm exactly anticipating the performance, but… I'm, also, curiously intrigued.
• I found Ansel Elgort downright insufferable in The Fault in Our Stars, although I concede that it's a near-impossible character to get close to and that most (if not all) of the problems originate on the page. I also wasn't quite as taken with Kaitlyn Dever's breakout work in Short Term 12 as some of my fellow TFE contributors were, thinking it just a tad too full of shrill, faux-angsty teen posturing to really cohere into a believable character. That being said, they're two young actors who are clearly going to be around for a long, long time, so I might as well get to know them a little better.
• Guys. What are we going to do with Jason Reitman? For every Juno and Young Adult - the former, one of the most gentle and generous comedies of the prior decade and the latter, a hilarious, horn-spouting character study with patent limitations - there's a Labor Day or Thank You for Smoking, that only serve to make his best films look like the work of a two-trick pony. It'd be tempting to call him an "actor's director," what with the prickly, priceless chemistry in Young Adult and that entire united Juno ensemble. But even Up in the Air, one of his comparably more "solid" movies, somehow manages to feature great, so-so, and totally overstated work simultaneously. So what gives?
It's a draw Andrew a Maybe So leaning No and Matthew a Maybe So leaning Yes. Be the deciding voice in the comments