Men, Women & Children (R) ★★½

Review Date: September 29th, 2014

With extended metaphors about the expanding universe, every troubled teen gambit in the book, and (most of all) that title, Men, Women & Children seems to carry some extreme delusions of grandeur. But despite a sizeable cast and some menacing musical cues, this isn't the high school Magnolia that Jason Reitman wants it to be. Still, enough instances of charm and humanity peek up from the haze of self-importance, allowing us something entirely watchable… if not all that inspiring.

The film opens with a fresh bounty on the head of the digital age. As we make our way through seven or eight interwoven stories, we watch a vigilant takedown of the myriad toxicities implied by the Web's place in our society today. Texting, social media, dating websites, personal pages, Tumblr, MMORPGS, discussion forums, and Internet porn all get their 'The More You Know' segments via technologically-induced shortcomings of a Texan suburb with a double dose of Weltschmerz.

The after school specials vary in attraction. While the blossoming romance between acerbic Kaitlyn Dever (whose helicopter mom, Jennifer Garner, tracks every move she makes) and head-in-the-clouds ex-jock Ansel Elgort (who sinks into a World of Warcraft-type game in the wake of his parents' divorce) has plenty of spark - for which we credit Dever - the marital decay of Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt is a chapter that we're consistently trudging through.

Tying into the self-satisfaction that courses through Men, Women & Children's every scene is an air of melodrama, the biggest atrocity committed by any of the film's episodes. Beyond just robbing the movie of authentic gusto, the "overdoing it" approach actually works to undo any of the messages that the film wants to impart - when you're dealing with paramount issues like depression, eating disorders, and teen pregnancy, it's imperative to keep things sincere.

Thanks to a ganglion of inherently watchable people - Dever tops the lot, but Dean Norris and Judy Greer make up a screen duo that, despite deficient characters, doesn't want for much chemistry - and its propensity to keep focus on no individual party for more than a few minutes at a time, Men, Women & Children never becomes an absolute bore. But the pride in what it is saying and such ostentatiousness in how it presents its thoughts dominate. The movie isn't half the movie it thinks it is.