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Patricia (Jennifer Garner) is the saddest of the many lost characters in “Men, Women & Children,” Jason Reitman’s soberly satirical new comedy.
Relentless and unsmiling, with a librarian’s spectacles and the most punitively perfect posture in Texas, Patricia is a caricature of maternal vigilance.
Sex survives, sort of: the father and his wife, played by Rosemarie De Witt, cruise the Internet and find company, sometimes paid, outside the marriage. Poor Patricia is so rigid that she bans not just social media but real conversation as well.
Except for a chattering classmate of Brandy’s who wants to be an actress and poses for naughty Internet photos to advance her career, the characters are all rather taciturn.
In Reitman’s neatest touch, people young and old walk though a mall, all of them looking at their devices, while the messages on their screens float above their heads, in rectangular balloons.
The texts intermingle; the people, walking side by side in many cases, are alone.In the film, relationships are stunted by a fear of direct conversation and the even greater awkwardness of face-to-face encounters, with their pauses, hesitations, and the ultimate terror of a direct gaze.Boys and girls talk dirty but can’t talk to each other.He could have done without the tale of the wan sophomore girl (Elena Kampouris) who is impregnated by a handsome, indifferent football player—clichéd characters out of the soaps. After a while, the movie begins to feel like a mere survey of contemporary alienation—an example, as the critic Justin Chang pointed out, of the very shallowness that the movie is putting down.Rosemarie De Witt’s straying wife, relying on a dating service, has satisfying sex with a soothing, mellow-voiced guy, played by Dennis Haysbert, but then he disappears. Reitman is so concerned with tying together the plot elements, and with making his teasing observations, that he left out the simplest kind of dramatic excitement.His mother has abandoned his family, and he has quit the football team and logged hundreds of hours on Guild Wars, the role-playing computer game.