There’s a whole lot of suburban wheel-spinning going on in “Men, Women & Children,” based on Chad Kultgen’s 2011 novel that no doubt seemed more shocking a mere three years ago than it does today. The Internet-related mischief, anxieties and dilemmas of teens and parents overlap in several story lines focused on how our techno-dependence has reshaped our social structures, sexual habits and self-images.
Husband and wife Don and Helen (Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt), no longer lustful for each other, seek excitement elsewhere via the Internet — he from an escort service, she from the extramarital affair-facilitating company ashleymadison.com (genius product placement, Ashley).
As Allison (Elena Kampouris), a high school cheerleader with an eating disorder, visits “thinspo” websites and feels so bad about herself she has meaningless sex with a brute, suggestive photos of her squadmate Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia) are pimped online by Hannah’s failed-actress mother (Judy Greer). Don and Helen’s 15-year-old son Chris (Travis Tope) is hooked on Internet porn.
Like a web surfer flitting back and forth between several open windows, writer/director Jason Reitman furiously multi-tasks, but the movie’s just too big to finish everything it starts. Blink and you’ll miss two stellar character actors, Dennis Haysbert as “Secretluvur, ” Helen’s hotel hookup, and J. K. Simmons as Allison’s concerned but clueless father. Dean Norris (Hank from “Breaking Bad”) makes the most of his fleeting screen time as a recently separated father worried about his football-star son’s retreat into online role-playing games,
Reitman, who proved he can riff on modern mores without moralizing in “Juno” and “Up in the Air,” lays it on thicker here, as he did with his recent dud, “Labor Day.” The male characters, even a grown-up, serious Sandler, ring truer and elicit more sympathy than most of the women, also a complaint some critics had about the novel. One heartbreaking exception: As Allison, the self-loathing thinspo girl, Kampouris is achingly believable. Many scenes featuring her or Crocicchia as Hannah, the self-aware Lolita, are squirm-inducing, giving off an exploitative vibe they are presumably intended to illustrate, not imitate.
At times “Men, Women & Children” feels like an extra-long segment of the old recurring SNL skit “White People Problems,” but it never pretends to solve any. Instead, it’s like a collection of shared and traded Instagram posts. Revealing the telling moments of individual lives in snapshots leaves an itch to dig deeper.