Jason Reitman wishes people wouldn’t let their fingers do the talking immediately after seeing his movie, Men, Women & Children, which explores lack of intimacy in the hyper-connected digital age.
Instant connection and social media can stand in the way of properly experiencing a film, Reitman points out, adding when people instantly tweet out 140 characters as the credits roll, it only serves to “narrow down that experience to a few words in a tweet to show up everyone who follows us to say ‘hey, I saw it before you and here’s my thoughts.’”
Opening Friday after its world premiere at TIFF, Men, Women & Children has a solid, multi-generational cast, including Rosemarie DeWitt, Adam Sandler, Kaitlyn Dever, Ansel Elgort, Jennifer Garner and Judy Greer, who explore the ever-expanding digital world’s impact on sex lives and relationships.
“It’s a weird thing as a filmmaker now because as a director, as a storyteller, you want people to think about your movies a little bit,” Reitman told the Star the day after the film’s world premiere. “What I hope for in my film, you watch it, you think about it, and then you go to a bar and have a drink and a long talk about it.”
Reitman was already a fan of Chad Kultgen (The Average American Male and The Lie) and read his 2011 novel Men, Women & Children before it was even published. Kultgen had asked him to write a jacket blurb, but Reitman did one better. He turned the novel into a movie.
Reitman said he was introduced to Kultgen by Mason Novick, who also “discovered Diablo Cody,” the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Reitman’s hugely successful comedy Juno, which Novick also produced, along with Men, Women & Children.
The Montreal-born Reitman, 36, son of producer-director Ivan Reitman, is a prolific director, starting with his first feature, the savvy Thank You For Smoking in 2005. Oscar nominations followed for Juno and multiples, including Best Picture, for Up In The Air.
There was less critical love for Young Adult (2011) and Labor Day, which brought him to TIFF last September. But Men, Women & Children strikes a more successful note.
One of the biggest surprises in the film is the low-key and quite effective performance of Adam Sandler, who plays dissatisfied husband Don Truby. He has become increasingly distant from his wife (DeWitt) as he feeds an online porn addiction.
“He gave it,” said Reitman of Sandler’s onscreen work. “I can’t sit here and say I crowbarred Adam into something. He came so ready and so giving and required so little direction. We talked a lot in the months leading up to making the film. Once we were there, he just did it.”
Reitman said in the case of the Trubys, he was anxious to explore “those moments in a marriage when the communication breaks down and you’re left with this kind of slow-building anger that has no outlet and inevitably you’re going to find someone you want to talk to.”
That desperate search for intimacy and connection varies widely in Men, Women & Children. Take the Trubys’ son, Chris (Travis Tope), whose relentless consumption of hard-core pornography has completely numbed a normal 15-year-old’s sexual response.
“That’s apparently a very common thing now,” said Reitman. “You have a generation of young men who have watched such graphic pornography that they are incapable of getting an erection. They have to reprogram their brains again.”
The characters’ struggles with sex are commented on with Emma Thompson’s often-lurid narration, which provides an amusing counterpoint to onscreen emotional turmoil.
“Oh my God, it’s worth making this film just to listen to Emma Thompson say dirty things,” laughed Reitman, adding he thinks she also seems to be voice of the Spacecraft Voyager, seen moving across the solar system in its lengthy, lonely journey in the film’s opening sequence.
The Voyager sequence was created by Framestore, the same company that did sequences for Gravity.
“What I’m interested in is that human instinct,” said Reitman of the inspiration behind using the satellite as a visual metaphor.
“(It’s) the same reason we put Voyager out there and loaded that record (of music and greetings) on. We have this instinct to connect with something whether we know it exists or not. And here we are fumbling around on Earth with people in front of us, just clearly walking by, so many people every single day…and we’re overcomplicating it for some reason.”