Men, Women, & Children
This movie deals with nearly every sexual topic of “normal” people---particularly hormone-infused teenagers. As a result, we are alternately shocked, embarrassed, and fascinated, like discovering someone else’s porn collection. And we’re not sure what to make of all this, except that maybe the “new normal” is that there is no normal.
Adam Sandler gets in touch with his serious (and downcast) side, as he plays Don Truby, the middle-aged married man who routinely “takes care of himself” by masturbating in front of computer porn. But one day, when his computer is malfunctioning, he decides he still needs visual aids, so he ventures into his teenage son’s room, and there he finds----another porno collection? This is “like father, like son” in a way that the family systems gurus never intended. Not surprisingly, Don’s sexual relationship with his wife Helen (Rosemarie De Witt) is not that much fun for either one of them. It’s hard to tell whether his distraction caused her disinterest, or vice versa, but in the end it doesn’t matter, neither one of them are “into” each other. They both independently decide to tarry “outside the realm” of marriage, he into an unsatisfying congress with paid “escorts,” and she with serial hookups on those “online dating” sites, yes, that are specifically designed for married people who want to “experiment.” (What happened to the 7th commandment?) It’s all kind of depressing escapism, until the day when it all comes to light, and when Helen walks back into the kitchen having been “discovered” with a stranger in a bar, Don, preparing breakfast, simply asks her, “What do you want?” And when she begins to stammer out a stumbling explanation, he says, “No, I meant, what do you want in your eggs? That other stuff will just put unwelcome images into our heads. Let’s just talk about what you want in your eggs this morning.” Well, that’s one mode of reconciliation, I suppose, but most family counselors wouldn’t recommend it.
As for the teenagers, well, we have the sort-of ordinary girl named Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever) with the extraordinarily oppressive Mom (Jennifer Garner), who’s determined to monitor her daughter’s every keystroke and movement and website perusal, which only makes Brandy “sneak out” both physically and virtually (with an online identity not yet discovered by her Mom). She’s also trying to carry on a remarkably “old school” dating-and-romance relationship with Caleb (Ansel Elgort), who’s quit the high school football team in the wake of his Mom’s abandonment of him and his Dad, so she can go find romance in California. Caleb retreats to his online video games, as well as online porn, until he risks being so online-interactive that he’s forgotten how to relate to anybody in “R.L.” (real life).
Then there’s the cheerleader who becomes anorexic because of the obsession around her with skinny bodies. Later, she decides she’s ready to experience giving up her virginity to a football player, but that doesn’t exactly turn out to be the world’s great romance, either.
Then there’s the Mom who’s so supportive of her daughter’s acting/modeling ambitions that she actually takes suggestive photographs of her and posts them online, even selling them, then is surprised when a potential “family-friendly” talent agency turns them both down. There’s the Dad who’s trying dating again, fresh from a painful divorce. And always, there’s the constant texting and Facebook-checking and Tweet-absorption and social-media obsession that seems to be overtaking us all. All this in the context of Carl Sagen’s poem about planet Earth being “the little blue dot” taken from the Voyager satellite from a great distance, as if we’re all meaningless specks in the universe because we all live on one.
Nobody ever mentions the Church as a possible alternative; a place that attempts to develop genuine human interaction and community, and also nurture faith in a personal God, and a higher purpose for humanity other than self-centered ambition, and even believing humans to be part of the greater scheme of things, like the coming Kingdom of Heaven. Radical stuff. Revolutionary, even. Too bad we Christians are having a hard time figuring out how to be heard right now, over the frenetic din of a myopic, digital, electronic, stressed-out culture.
In “Men, Women, and Children,” there’s a lot of knowledge and savvy, but not much wisdom and grace.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Parish Associate at Woodhaven Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas