Adaptation Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray Review: Men, Women & Children

January 14, 2015Ben MK

Oh, what a tangled web...

Within the last decade or so, communications technology has advanced by leaps and bounds. Spurred by the proliferation of social networking platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, there has been a dramatic paradigm shift in the way we as part of the global population interact with one another. But has it helped or hindered our chances of finding true intimacy? That's one of the questions explored in director Jason Reitman's sixth feature film, Men, Women & Children, which examines our collective fascination — or obsession — with the digital world, and how it has irrevocably altered our lives.


The Film Based on the novel by Chad Kultgen, Men, Women & Children unfolds as a series of interconnected stories that follow the lives of ten different characters from the same small Texas town, as they each strive to navigate a confusing online world, in an attempt to fulfill their own individual needs, wants and desires.

There's Don Truby (Adam Sandler) and his wife, Helen (Rosemarie DeWitt), who can no longer ignore their disintegrating marriage, so — unbeknownst to one another — they venture online seeking sexual gratification from strangers, through escort services and sites catering to extramarital affairs. Meanwhile, their 15-year-old son, Chris (Travis Tope), has been turning to the internet to satiate his lurid curiosities since the age of 10. And it leads to disastrous results when he becomes involved with a classmate named Hannah Clint (Olivia Crocicchia), a cheerleader and would-be actress whose mother, Donna (Judy Greer), has been unknowingly making her daughter a target for sexual predators by posting suggestive photos of Hannah on her modelling website.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Patricia Beltmeyer (Jennifer Garner), an overprotective mother who aims to control every aspect of her daughter Brandy's (Kaitlyn Dever) online identity, even going so far as monitoring Brandy's online interactions, tracking her whereabouts and intercepting her messages. But Patricia's strategy backfires when Brandy meets Tim Mooney (Ansel Elgort), a former high school football player who's been going through an existential crisis ever since his parents divorced, and whose new obsession with online role-playing games has only served to alienate him from his father, Kent (Dean Norris). Finally, there's Hannah's friend, Allison Doss (Elena Kampouris), whose fixation with what she believes to be the ideal body type has caused her to seek solace in an online community of like-minded individuals, further fuelling her self-destructive behavior.

The film is ambitious, to say the least, with Reitman and co-screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson taking their cue from movies like Robert Altman's Short Cuts, Paul Haggis' Crash and Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia. They attempt to interweave the various narrative threads into a cohesive whole — all in an effort to form an essay on the complexities of social interaction in this digital age — and while the final product can be thought-provoking and even downright poignant at times, it ultimately lacks a clear focus, resulting in a film that's considerably less than the sum of its parts.

Despite the film's shortfalls, however, the on-screen performances remain quite compelling on the whole. Sandler isn't quite up to par with his performance in Punch Drunk Love, but he still brings a good deal of dramatic credibility to the role. Likewise, DeWitt, Garner and Greer are excellent at communicating to audiences their characters' nuances, even though none of them can be said to have all that much screen time to begin with. And the younger members of the cast are able to hold their own among the more seasoned actors as well, especially Ansel Elgort (last seen in The Fault in our Stars), who has arguably the most emotionally taxing role in the entire movie.

Audio/Visual Fidelity Men, Women & Children arrives on Blu-ray less than three months after its North American theatrical debut, and (surprise, surprise) it looks and sounds every bit as good as a recent release should. Picture quality is expectedly crisp, with an appreciable amount of fine detail and no signs of image defects whatsoever. And colors are bold and striking, with inky blacks and strong contrast levels that lend much depth to brightly lit and outdoor scenes. Nighttime and darker scenes occasionally take on a slightly flatter appearance, but overall, this is quite an attractive hi-def transfer indeed. As for the sound quality, the disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is more than capable of accurately representing the film's subdued sound design, which consists largely of dialogue, with a few subtle atmospheric effects (such as ambience from a mall and from a high school football game) and some light instrumental pieces (by English musician Stephen Wilkinson, aka Bibio) peppered throughout.

Special Features Paramount's Blu-ray release bundles in an iTunes/UltraViolet digital copy of the film, as well as over half an hour of HD bonus features. Extras include 10 minutes of Deleted Scenes (numbering five in total) and two behind-the-scenes featurettes: the 13-minute Virtual Intimacy features the cast and crew sharing their thoughts on such topics as how technology has changed the way we interact with one another, the permanence of online media and how much of a role parents should play in their kids' online lives; and Seamless Interface is an 8-minute interview with Reitman's longtime collaborator, title designer Gareth Smith, who discusses his approach to not only the film's main title sequence, but to the graphics employed throughout the film to uniquely visualize the characters' online activities.

The Bottom Line Men, Women & Children is a valiant attempt at saying something meaningful about the state of human communication in the 21st century, but it ultimately falls short of its own lofty ambitions. That's not to say that the talented ensemble cast doesn't carry their weight in the film — in fact, they're just about the best thing about it — however, if you're looking for a compelling examination of technology's impact on modern society, it's best to start with the original novel. Otherwise, the sterling audio and video of Paramount's Blu-ray release still make it worth checking out in its own right. But just as with the film itself, don't expect the special features to delve very deep.  Ben Mk

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  
Special Features  —  

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