Men, Women & Children (Paramount Pictures, R)

Men-Women--Children 75If anyone tries to argue with me on the grounds that this movie is actually terrible, I wouldn’t try to argue with them. But really, I kind of liked it.

Men-Women--Children 500

We all know that there are good movies, bad movies, and movies that are so bad they’re good. But there’s an unusual strain of this last category that don’t really circle around to the other side, like how Plan 9 from Outer Space so famously does, but instead work in spite of themselves. That’s how the new Jason Reitman film Men, Women & Children is: It’s a head-scratcher that someone as talented as Reitman could have turned out such a screwily conceived movie, and if anyone tries to argue with me on the grounds that this movie is actually terrible, I wouldn’t try to argue with them. But really, I kind of liked it.

It’s a big ensemble piece that tries to get at how we live today, and its tone is somewhat akin to films such as American Beauty or Me & You & Everyone We Know (both of which topped my year-end top 10 lists the respective years that they came out, so maybe I’m a sucker for this kind of thing). Though you’ll recognize most of the actors, none of them are really the leads: This is a movie with a whole lot of supporting performances. Adam Sandler plays Don Truby, who is married to Rosemarie DeWitt’s Helen, and together they have a teenager named Chris. Don masturbates to internet porn in Chris’s room, Helen raids adultery websites to find people to cheat on Don with, and Chris is so desensitized due to watching his own share of internet porn that real, traditional sex with a real girl seems to confuse him.

Elsewhere we have the Clints, mother Donna (Judy Greer) and teenager Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia), who are over sexualized and undervalued, and hoping to land Hannah a spot on a reality TV show. Brandy Beltmeyer (Short Term 12’s Kaitlyn Dever) has a crush on woulda-been star quarterback Tim Mooney (The Fault in Our Stars’ and Divergent’s Ansel Elgort, better here than he was in either of those movies), but she’s thwarted by her unbelievably helicopter mom Patricia (Jennifer Garner, reteaming with Reitman, who directed her career-best performance in Juno). Speaking of Juno alumni, J.K. Simmons pops up as the father to Allison Doss (Elena Kampouris, who was in Reitman’s last movie, Labor Day, and is in Sandler’s next movie, The Cobbler), a teenager with anorexia and an appetite (no pun intended) for undeserving boys.

There are more characters than this, but you get the idea. What you need to know is that the film doesn’t really offer any insights into modern culture, can be ridiculously heavy handed, and features really ill-judged voiceover from Emma Thompson, but in general is surprisingly fun to watch, despite its badness. I’ll take an interesting failure like Men, Women & Children over a boring failure like Labor Day anytime—though one might be correct in wondering how Reitman is picking his projects at this point. | Pete Timmermann

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