Thursday, December 18, 2014

Deleting the internet

Men, Women & Children spoilers to follow. 

During the first half of Men, Women & Children, I was already mentally composing a post in my Facebook film discussion group which would read "Most unfairly maligned movie of the year: Men, Women & Children."

Then the movie went on a half-hour too long, and culminated in three instances of parents "deleting their children's internet" within about ten minutes of screen time.

Now, the biggest obstacle faced by movies with interweaving narratives is how to reach a satisfying climax that does not rely on a tragic or overwrought resolution to each story. Last year's movie Disconnect, which explores similar issues of "how we live in the internet age," was a particularly egregious offender in this regard, as there was literally a montage of three simultaneous instances of violence at the climax of the three main storylines.

Men, Women & Children does not go that far ... it seems to have consciously styled itself as a more life-sized entity. However, it does reveal itself as somewhat absurd when, consecutively, the following three things happen:

- Security fascist Jennifer Garner discovers that her daughter has been hiding a Tumblr account from her in which she wears wigs and says things without her mother censoring her, and she subsequently deletes everything on her daughter's desktop and changes all of her passwords.

- Divorced dad Dean Norris reads comments posted by his son's internet acquaintances on a World of Warcraft type game, about having sex with the mother who abandoned them, and promptly deletes his son's player account.

- Misguided mom Judy Greer learns that her teenage daughter didn't get accepted into a reality show competition because the website containing pictures of her daughter strays too close to child pornography, and she takes down the website. (A website where the mom herself was the primary photographer, mind you.)

Um, gee, Jason Reitman -- do you think the solution to all the world's problems is parents getting more involved in their children's internet use?

It's not quite as black-and-white as that, because the first two of these actions are ultimately portrayed as the wrong move to have made (Garner learns she isn't letting her daughter just be a teenager, and Norris' son tries to commit suicide). But the message that the internet has compromised our collective humanity rings loudly indeed.

And I suppose that's why this movie has been maligned. The similarity of the resolution of these stories stuck in the craw of even someone like me, the rare person who has positive things to say about the movie as well.

So, let's devote a paragraph to some of those positives. For starters, this movie is not nearly as overwrought as I thought it would be. Reitman seems to have heeded certain lessons about previous films that delved into this type of subject matter, but failed to heed others. However, the lessons he did heed result in this movie having a lot more nuance than you might think, both in its view of the world (there are almost no purely villainous characters) and in its execution of the drama (the actors and the dialogue are both better than they might need to be). The movie also has one of my favorite soundtracks of 2014.

It was looking up the soundtrack on iTunes afterward, though, that made me realize an irony about Men, Women & Children -- I didn't actually need to go to the theater to see this movie, as it was already available, you guessed it, on the internet. In fact, it didn't even bear the typical iTunes new release rental price of $5.99 or $6.99. I could have rented this movie for a mere $3.99 in standard definition.

I think this says something about just how much this movie came and went. Having seen the trailer months ago, I had this movie on my radar for plenty of time. Yet I didn't hear anyone talking about it in the U.S. when it was released -- the substantial negative buzz originated from its screening in Toronto in September. I thought it wasn't due in theaters until Christmastime, and then one day I realized it had already come and gone (making fewer than $1 million in the U.S.) and was playing here in Australia without much fanfare.

The reason I chose it on Tuesday, for discount movie night at the Sun Theatre in Yarraville, was because it was the movie I most wanted to see that was not already available from iTunes (or so I thought). You see, we find ourselves in a weird time of the year in Australia, where the holiday releases are just out of reach, and some of the stuff that's hitting theaters now is also debuting on video in the U.S. Other contenders for a discount night movie included things like The Captive and The Congress, but I knew those could be gotten for half of even the discount price via Apple. I thought I was being smart by grabbing something that wouldn't otherwise be available to me until after my ranking deadline in January, but alas, no.

Well, at least I got one half of a good movie out of it ... and a movie that is, indeed, probably more maligned than it truly deserves to be.

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