Men, Women & Children unplugs media morals

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      TORONTO—Jason Reitman’s Men, Women & Children (opening Friday [October 10]) is, like many of his films, a modern-day morality play. It’s a Hollywood movie that wants to tell us important things about the times we’re still living in.

      Based on the novel by Chad Kultgen, Men, Women & Children is about how the Internet affects our families, our relationships, and our sex lives. Reitman’s tactics include using familiar Hollywood faces in less-than-usual roles: Adam Sandler, for example, is cast against type as a hangdog husband and father whose frustrations lead him outside his marriage.

      In contrast, Jennifer Garner plays a character that feels familiar. Patricia, the film’s morally superior mom figure, seems a lot like Vanessa from Juno, only more so. She’s a suburban mother whose Internet-related paranoia causes her to feel justified in her protofascist approach to monitoring her daughter Brandy’s (Kaitlyn Dever) devices.

      Though Men, Women & Children is an ensemble film, only Patricia is so tightly wound that she could almost be a caricature—if we didn’t all know someone like her.

      So does Reitman intentionally typecast Garner in “unsympathetic” roles? At a Toronto International Film Festival media conference with Reitman and Garner at the Royal York hotel last month, Reitman seemed genuinely surprised by a question about whether Vanessa and Patricia were two versions of the same unlikable character.

      “That’s so weird that you’d say that, since I find so much humanity in both roles that I’ve cast you in,” responded Reitman, addressing Garner as well as the group of assembled reporters. “I think both these characters are kind of sympathetic, no?”

      “Most people don’t think so,” Garner said.

      Reitman went on to say that his intention for both of Garner’s roles was for the audience to find “earnest hopefulness” in them, “though it’s easy to mock someone who’s earnest and hopeful,” he conceded. He told Garner, “You are the sign to the audience that no matter what we are hit with as humanity that we will find a way through. So, um, I disagree. I find your characters to be powerful, sympathetic characters that are going up against a very callous world.”

      Garner said she also completely understands both her characters and their actions, adding that “we don’t have time” to enumerate all her own fears about the dangers of the Internet.

      “I definitely have a lot of love for Patricia in my heart,” said Garner. “I feel like she makes a lot of sense to me. I definitely don’t judge her. I think that being a parent is really hard.…Every day you have a chance to screw up at being a parent and this is her opportunity, that she thinks she’s doing the absolute best that she can.”

      “It’s all real,” Kaitlyn Dever later affirmed when the Georgia Straight asked the young actor, who plays Garner’s daughter Brandy, whether Reitman is right about how our online lives have impacted our reality.

      “Everything Jason did in this film was all true, it feels very right,” she said. “This is a movie about how the Internet affects people’s love lives, and it’s not saying whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, just that you should put your chin up once in a while and look around at the world.”

      Though Dever admits that she’s too young to imagine a world without the Internet, she acknowledges the importance of understanding that we’re not the same people when we communicate via text or on social media, for example, as we are when we’re face to face. Reitman drove this point home while shooting Men, Women & Children by limiting the degree to which his young stars used social media to discuss their on-set experiences. (It wasn’t a problem for Garner; she refuses to use social media.)

      “I told them on day one, ‘Look, you’re about to have a really special experience: you’re about to make this movie together,’ ” said Reitman. “ ‘And you’re going to have an instinct to want to tweet things and Instagram things and share things, and I implore you not to do any of that. You’re never going to have this experience again. You’re all so young. No movie is going to be like this. Make things just between the eight of you, and create experiences that you’re never going to share with anybody.’

      “It’s amazing how quickly, whether a movie succeeds or fails, that it actually belongs to everybody else. But the making of the film is what ends up being something special that you carry with you,” he concluded.

      Dever, for her part, said that Reitman’s well-intentioned censoring was actually very helpful.

      “Sometimes, it’s hard to tell whether we or our characters have a connection in real life, when it’s all about the other connections we’re having,” she recalled. “It was a chance to just unplug and be ourselves.”