American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"Men, Women and Children" is a film that wants to make a grand and profound statement about where we are as a society today; how modern technology has affected human relationships by showing how the very tools theoretically designed to bring people together have instead driven them further into their own individual online worlds filled with hardcore pornography, violent video games, potentially dangerous chat-mates and whatever that Tumblr thing is. A potentially interesting premise is handled so badly that what might have been a provocative drama quickly and irrevocably devolves into the technological equivalent of the old anti-dope chestnut "Reefer Madness," squandering the efforts of a strong and talented cast struggling mightily to make something of the ridiculously trite material.
Based on the novel by Chad Kulgen, Reitman's adaptation is set in a small Texas town, and follows a group of high school students and their parents whose lives have been overrun with high-tech gadgets and all the troubles they can inspire. Donny (Adam Sandler) is an ordinary guy whose dissatisfaction with his marriage leads him first to straightforward internet pornography and later to an escort service for a fling; little does he suspect that wife Helen (Rosemarie DeWitt) is following a similar mental trajectory. Their son, Chris (Travis Trope), has become so versed in pornography that direct human contact with a girl is no longer enough to excite him—a condition that reaches a head, so to speak, when sexpot cheerleader Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia) makes a play for him. Hannah, by the way, is an aspiring starlet who has a website filled with provocative photos for her "fans," and if you are curious as to where her mother is, it turns out than Mom (Judy Greer) runs the site and takes the photos in the hopes of giving her daughter the Hollywood career that was denied her years earlier.
Mom, by the way, is beginning to see Kent (Dean Norris), who is still reeling from his wife's recent abandonment of him and his son, school football star Tim (Ansel Elgort). As a result of his mother's absence, Tim has developed an existential funk that leads him to quit the team and start spending his time playing video games and pursuing the school's requisite quirky outsider girl—you can tell because she reads actual books—Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever). Brandy, alas, is living under the yoke of her wildly overprotective mother, Patricia (Jennifer Garner), who not only monitors her every online move right down to the number of keystrokes but leads a neighborhood discussion group dedicated to warning about the hidden dangers of being online. ("I want to give you a pamphlet about the dangers of selfies.")
Finally, there is Allison (Elena Kampouris), a young girl whose desire to be thin has driven her to an eating disorder and a website where other anorexics offer inspiration as she starves herself. All of this activity is being monitored by an unseen narrator (Emma Thompson), who muses about the frivolity of our behavior while Voyager hurtles through space with its records showing mankind at his best.