Let’s wind the clocks back to the last few months of 2013. I was randomly looking up Jason Reitman, one of my favorite directors. I knew he was in the middle of making a film, but I wanted to see what he was doing next. After some very light digging, I discovered that his next project was an adaptation of Chad Kultgen’s novel Men, Women & Children.
I love Reitman’s films. Up in the Air speaks to me on a very deep, personal level. An adaptation of Walter Kirn’s novel of the same name, it’s probably one of my favorite films of all time. It may even be one of the top ten. Juno is as quirky as it is adorable and made me fall hard for Ellen Page. Thank You For Smoking, also based on a book, is great too. The movie shifts the political thriller focus of the book to a much more tender father/son story.
I wasn’t too impressed with Young Adult, mostly because I’m not a fan of Charlize Theron. Then again, I haven’t seen it since it came out. Maybe I’m due for another viewing. His most recent film, Labor Day, is pornography for lonely divorcees. Even Reitman himself calls it misguided. Of course, I didn’t know that Labor Day, also based on a novel, was going to be as bad as it was when I learned his next project was doing Men, Women & Children. Still, I’m willing to give Reitman the benefit of the doubt. The trailer looks amazing.
Much like with Jesse Andrews’ Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, I ordered the book right away once I found out it was being adapted. I must have been reading something else at the time because I didn’t get around to it until near the end of January. When I finally sat down to read it, I devoured the three hundred and three pages in two days.
Men, Women & Children chronicles the goings-on of several suburban families and their middle school-aged children as they try to make their way through life in the age of instant information, instant gratification and instant humiliation. It is straight-up depressing in the best kind of way.
One father has to rush home during his lunch hour just so he can masturbate. His porn tastes are downright vanilla compared to his son’s, who is discovering just about every kind of kink there is thanks to the vastness of the Internet.
One mom runs a website where she charges men to view suggestive photos of her daughter. The daughter only wants to lose her virginity before any of her other eighth grade peers.
One chaste middle schooler uses an alternate MySpace profile to present herself as a sexually promiscuous Goth.
A married couple is drifting further and further apart. The husband struggles with whether or not he should hire an escort while the wife struggles with whether or not she should meet up face-to-face with a man she met online.
This is just a sampling of the characters in the novel. I wish I’d had a character sheet to keep them organized.
Kultgen’s novel, at times both hopeless and hopeful, is an examination of what happens when the American Dream is digitized. As I was reading, I couldn’t help but think about how different my middle school experience was from the kids in the book. I wasn’t worried about losing my virginity, battling anorexia or harboring suicidal thoughts. My mother wasn’t taking suggestive pictures of me and charging men to look at them. Is this really what kids are going through these days? I’m not being rhetorical here; I’m genuinely asking. We live in a society that fosters the idea of growing up quickly. Through their media consumption, kids already know what to do with sexual urges before they get even them. If this is how kids really are in middle school, someone needs to do something about it; someone needs to talk to them. But if we’re going by the narrative of the book, it won’t be the parents because they are just as screwed up as the children.
Despite my comparatively mundane middle school experience, I could still relate to the kids in the book. And I could relate to the adults, too. The book posits that at one time or another, everyone has felt alone. Whether that feeling is in a relationship or in life in general is irrelevant because the feeling is still there. Everyone has feared ridicule of presenting their innermost desires to someone. That’s why the Internet is so great. It brings like-minded people closer together. You can look across the chasm you’re about to jump into and see that you’re not alone. Sometimes that’s all you need, to decide not to jump.
[The Internet is also awful because those innermost thoughts can be instantly shared with everyone that you don’t want them to be shared with. If you need proof of that, just go read the comments section of literally any YouTube video.]
Regarding the upcoming movie, Reitman may potentially have the greatest movie of his career on his hands. I imagine something like American Beauty meets Disconnect meets Blue Velvet. While I’m less than enthused about the casting of Jennifer Garner and Adam Sandler, I’m still excited about the movie. And if you’ve seen Punch-Drunk Love, you know that Sandler is capable of actually acting. I’m hopeful that Reitman will pull something serviceable out of him. It seems like Sandler is playing the man who wants to hire an escort. Thinking back to his characterization, Sandler may be a perfect fit.
Men, Women & Children is set for a limited run starting October 3 before expanding on October 17. That gives you a little over a month to read the book, so hop to it!
What are your thoughts on the oeuvre of Jason Reitman? Have you read this or any other book by Kultgen? Sound off in the comments below.