What Happened to Former Awards Hopeful 'Men, Women & Children' And Why?

Paramount Pictures

I have not seen it, and chances are, you might not have either. It was supposed to be Jason Reitman’s bid for awards season glory. Instead, “Men, Women & Children” has faded into obscurity, neither causing enough of a negative or positive reaction to stir debate. It has simply vanished from the cinema world without a cumulative whisper.

What went wrong? Reitman seemed to check off all of the key ingredients for an esteemed film. He cast respected indie actors (Rosemarie Dewitt and Judy Greer), a comedian in a serious role (Adam Sandler), and a slew of rising young talent (“The Fault in Our Stars” lead Ansel Elgort and Kaitlyn Dever, leading the charge). Based on Chad Klutgen’s 2011 novel of the same name, the story centers on a group of relative strangers whose lives are interwoven through their Internet activity.

It is hard to imagine it was the subject matter that put audiences off. Addressing technology and its increasing presence in people’s lives is a hot topic. Perhaps not a controversial or well-discussed issue, given its implications on our lives is still in the early stages. Was it what it had to say about it that made the difference? One thing the movie appears to take on/castigate is parents who monitor their children’s online activity.

The idea that an 8-year-old has the right to a personal smartphone and their parents should have no input or capacity to supervise their activity seems to be a prominent train of thought in the current pop culture landscape. This is a hot-button issue, and judging by the trailer (and the wiki summary), concerned parents are made out to be the bad guys, which is quite frankly disturbing. 

Why make parents out to be the villains when some online predators and bullies actually pose a viable threat to serve as the story’s antagonist? Pointing the finger at parents is an ongoing trend that “Men, Women & Children” is not the first to follow. 

In the terrific film “Trust,” Clive Owen’s character, a protective father whose daughter has been victimized by an online predator, is made out to be a bigger bad guy than the creep who harmed her. It’s a disquieting message to send as it’s rather safe to say involved parents are the least of kids’ problems.

“Men, Women & Children” is not the first film to discuss the inferences of our tech-driven culture either. The aforementioned “Trust” and last year’s critically approved ensemble drama “Disconnect.” None of these movies have been runaway hits, which is expected, given that most contemplative dramas are not.

As it stands now, there have not been enough movies made about tech use to conclude whether it is a popular subject. Given the voices we have heard from have been limited, offering a different perspective on the topic was the greatest selling feature of “Men, Women & Children” and writer/director Jason Reitman seemed a perfect fit to share a fresh angle. 

Jason Reitman has taken audiences inside the frightening antics of big tobacco in the satire “Thank You for Smoking.” He has explored the life of a corporate downsizer in “Up in the Air” and examined the delusional mind of a cruel fiction writer in “Young Adult.” He has a knack for telling stories about characters on the periphery of mainstream likability while making them personable with a relatable plotline.

His talent is one of the reasons it came as such a surprise when his career momentum seemed to stall with last year’s romantic drama “Labor Day.” It was a stumble few could’ve seen coming, one of those snafus that did not quite add up. In the case of “Labor Day” and “Men, Women & Children,” their underwhelming performance is not visibly apparent upon surface review.

A strong cast, topical premise, and a well-known director were not enough to propel “Men, Women & Children” into the awards conversation, and it is a mystery as to why. Another mystery is what does this mean for director Jason Reitman if anything at all? Hopefully, a comeback in the not-so-distant future.

Have you seen “Men, Women & Children”? Was it any good? Is the indifference it has received been fair? What do you think hampered its awards hope?