This latest effort from Jason Reitman has certainly polarised critics and whilst Men, Women and Children isn’t a patch on Reitman’s best work, it certainly doesn’t warrant the scathing tirades that some have launched against it. Yes, the film is flawed, but there are some elements here that are both effective and insightful and there are some strong performances amongst the ensemble cast. Essentially, Men, Women and Children is an attempt to explore the nature of relationships – both new and old – and the impact that technology has on the way people connect and/or disconnect with each other. Through a series of interwoven narratives, the film is particularly focussed on the internet and the way in which it influences the way people behave and interact, and the potential ramifications from such interactions. Yes, there are clichéd characters – Olivia Crocicchia as the not-as-slutty-as-she-would-like-everyone-to-believe Hannah for example – and others that are just ridiculous, such as Jennifer Garner’s overly over-protective mother Patricia Beltmeyer, a nonsensical construct that only serves to alienate and render that segment of the narrative as utterly infuriating. That is not to say there aren’t parents out there utilising tracking technology to monitor their children’s movements and online activities, but there is no context offered for Patricia’s extreme behaviour in this regard and Garner’s performance is devoid of any subtlety whatsoever. Conversely, as the other evil mother of the piece in Donna Clint, Judy Greer delivers a really balanced performance as a woman whose mistakes are driven by a desire to help her daughter procure the fame she so desperately craves; the realisation that things have gone too far almost coming too late. Whilst we may not agree with her actions, at least we are offered some insight into what has motivated her behaviour and Donna is therefore a much more rounded and sympathetic character. Meanwhile, J.K. Simmons is sadly underutilised in a small role as the father of Allison Doss (Elene Kampouris), a girl battling self-esteem issues and an eating disorder. So good in Short Term 12, Kaitlyn Dever is fabulous again here as Brandy, the teenage daughter who is a prisoner to her mother’s irrational fears and confined to a life of 24 hour surveillance. Her burgeoning relationship with Tim Mooney (Ansel Elgort), the school football star who walks away from the game in search of something more meaningful, ultimately brings things to a head. Having been abandoned by his mother several months earlier, Tim has found solace in video games and Elgort is much less annoying than he was as cigarette-fondling cancer sufferer in The Spectacular Now. The other key narrative stream revolves around Don and Helen Truby (Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt), a married couple whose marriage has stagnated. Don and his son Chris (Travis Tope) are both, unbeknownst to each other, hooked on porn, while Helen is simply looking for a sexual re-awakening. Whilst it is always good to see Sandler prepared to step outside his comfort zone, he doesn’t have much to do here other than masturbate a lot and contemplate the size of his cock. It is Dewitt who very much drives this narrative thread and she is fabulous as a woman desperate for some excitement in her life. It is the merest of facial expressions and the moments unspoken that offer insight into the gamut of emotions swirling within her conflicted state of mind. Unfortunately, Reitman has abandoned the “show, don’t tell” ethos and relies too heavily on a pretentious voiceover by Emma Thompson to explain what is going on. There is very little exposition in this narration that couldn’t have been delivered in a more interesting way via the characters themselves. The point of the voiceover is hardly anything new; a reminder that Earth, the people on it and the myriad problems with which they are dealing every day, are utterly insignificant within the realm of the universe. This comes across as very condescending given the serious issues being faced by several of the characters; as if to say that any pain they may be suffering is ultimately irrelevant. In fact, given the nature of the subject matter, Reitman really needed to push the envelope a bit, instead of opting for an almost PG-like approach to the material. A long way adrift of Reitman’s best work (Juno and Up in the Air) this is certainly better than his turgid Labor Day and, whilst the likes of Crocicchia and Kampouris struggle to convince in their roles, there are some really good performances from Dever, Greer and DeWitt that bring substance to their characters and the circumstances in which they find themselves. When it works, Men, Women and Children is affecting and thought provoking; the problem is that these good moments are too few.