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The dangers of the internet exposed on film

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Director: Jason Reitman
Main Cast: Rosemary DeWitt, Jennifer Garner, Adam Sandler, Kaitlyn Dever, Ansel Elgort
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Running Time: 119 minutes
Release Date: 27 November 2014

How much do you really know about the people you know?

That’s the compelling question posed by Men, Women and Children, a new film from Jason Reitman, the director behind socially-aware gems like Juno and Up in the Air.

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According to Reitman, the answer is not much – if anything at all.

The unnerving movie explores the dark, convoluted world of the internet, covering everything from social media to porn, online dating to escorts and blogging to gaming.

Ansel Elgort as a football star addicted to gaming.
Ansel Elgort as a football star addicted to gaming. Photo: Supplied

It’s a clear statement about modern society’s reliance on the cyber sphere and the perils of leaving “RL” – gamer code for “real life”.

Overseeing it all is the uncharacteristically unsettling voice of Emma Thompson, who narrates the intertwining plot lines of several main characters, each of them exceptionally disenfranchised in their own way.

Her dulcet British tone imbues the movie with a strange sense of realism, like a well-cast documentary.

Although occasionally marred by cliché, Men, Women and Children manages to retain its appeal thanks to a pervasive thread of voyeurism that’s difficult to resist.

We watch a husband and wife (played by Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt), torn apart by online temptations, a pushy mother (Judy Greer) selling revealing photos of her teenager daughter online, an anorexic teenager (Elena Kampouris) tortured by internet “thinspiration”, a high school footballer (Ansel Elgort) engulfed by online gaming and an overprotective mother (Jennifer Garner) driven to insanity by the horror of it all.

The silver lining of the film is Adam Sandler, who apparently does drama better than he ever did comedy. He’s fascinating as a middle-aged father addicted to internet porn.

Jennifer Garner (right) and Kaitlyn Dever.
Jennifer Garner (right) and Kaitlyn Dever. Photo: Supplied

Up-and-comer Ansel Elgort (The Fault in Our Stars, Divergent) is also beautiful to watch, encapsulating all the difficult confusion and frustration of adolescence while remaining eminently likeable.

As a whole, the film leaves you wondering what really lurks in suburbia and may have you glancing sideways at your seat partner, wondering what dark secrets lurk in their browser history.

You might even feel the overwhelming urge to turn your phone off and delete your Facebook account.

Of course, it’s a movie and thus has the requisite exaggerations: cheesy internet meet-cutes, predictable character development and a slightly silly Garner attempting to appear highly-strung.

What’s more, surely no teenager on earth is as plagued by such violent fights, overt sexualisation, mental illness and family problems as those depicted in the movie.

Or perhaps they all are?

Therein lies the beauty of Men, Women and Children – it won’t blow your mind, but it might just change it.

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