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The Canadian writer-director Jason Reitman‘s career exploded with his first three feature films, Thank You for Smoking (2005), Juno (2007) and Up in the Air (2009), the latter two of which received best picture Oscar nominations and garnered him best director noms, as well. (He was also nominated for co-adapting Up in the Air‘s screenplay) The two films with which he followed those, however, Young Adult (2011) and Labor Day (2013), proved much more divisive, and led some to wonder if the filmmaker had lost his way.
Now, though, with his sixth feature — Men, Women & Childen, which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival’s Ryerson Theatre at 6pm on Saturday, just like all of his others except Young Adult, which skipped the festival circuit — I am pleased to report that Reitman has recaptured the formula that endeared him to critics, audiences and the Academy in the first place: employing a big and talented ensemble to smartly and dryly satirize the world in which we live.
MWC, which Paramont — the distributor of all of Reitman’s films since Up in the Air — will put into limited release on Oct. 1, was adapted by Reitman and Erin Cressida Wilson from Charles “Chad” Kultgen‘s acclaimed 2011 novel of the same title. The film, like the book, examines the ways in which the rise of the Internet and the explosion of portable electronic devices in the years after 9/11 have changed the way we live our lives socially and sexually. It explores big and uncomfortable questions, but not pretentiously. It merely suggests that you put down your iPhone for a second — which many people can’t even do in a movie theater anymore — and consider the impact of these massive changes, and whether or not they’re for the better.
For instance, many of us are now so focused on the way we want the world to see us — our profiles, our pictures, our statuses — to actually live our lives and interact with others. We’re more technologically connected (and dependent) than ever, but also less emotionally connected (or capable of in-person emotional connection) than ever. And, perhaps most problematically, few ever seem to be content with their lot — everyone’s always looking for something or someone better — which leaves us feeling hollow and the people in our lives feeling underappreciated. These things have real-world consequences, and those are what this film explores. (It’s worth noting that they were previously explored, quite effectively, in a 2013 film called Disconnect, which stars Reitman-regular Jason Bateman, and which I saw on the opening night of the 28th Santa Barbara International Film Festival.)
As was the case with his earlier films, Reitman has perfectly cast this picture. Juno alum Jennifer Garner is an uptight mom who micromanages her daughter’s online life. 17-year-old Kaitlyn Dever, one of the best young actresses in the world right now (see Short Term 12), is her conscientious daughter who resents being micromanaged. Her romantic interest is played by Ansel Elgort (the male heartthrob from The Fault in Our Stars), who has become lost in online gaming as his “RL” (real life) crumbles around him. His father, portrayed by Breaking Bad‘s Dean Norris, has lost his wife to a Facebook romance, and finds that his new romantic interest, played by the great character actress Judy Greer, is obsessed with using the Internet to help her hyper-sexual young daughter (Olivia Crocicchia), attain the fame she never did. A long-married couple played by Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt turn to the Internet to deal with their own sexual frustrations. And the list goes on.
In this cast, there really are no weak links — the young actors are particularly good, just as they always have been in Reitman’s films (see Juno‘s Ellen Page and Up in the Air‘s Anna Kendrick, both of whom were Oscar-nominated) — but, at the same time, no one individual has quite enough screen time to make a serious awards play. If the film really clicks, a best ensemble SAG nom and a best picture Oscar nomination might be possible. But, in all likelihood, since it may prove a bit of a tough sell to Academy-age voters, more than a few of whom still use VCRs and don’t use the Internet, it probably stands its best shot in the best adapted screenplay category.
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