Chances are Jennifer Garner realized early on that the two films she was starring in this fall would appeal to two very different audiences. What she probably didn't expect was that the Disney family film “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” would be the one that would have the bigger impact on her career, especially considering her other movie, “Men, Women & Children,” features an ensemble cast with talent such as Adam Sandler, Rosemarie DeWitt, Judy Greer and up-and-comer Ansel Elgort. Oh, and did we mention that movie is directed by four-time Oscar nominee Jason Reitman, who she previously collaborated with on Best Picture nominee “Juno?” Yes, sometimes life has a way of throwing expectations completely out the window.
“Alexander” is currently headed toward a $20 million-plus weekend at the box office. “Men, Women & Children,” on the other hand, opened in 17 theaters last weekend with a tepid $47,553 for a five-day cume of $60,843. The Paramount drama is still expected to go wide on Friday, Oct. 17, but expectations have clearly diminished across the board for it.
When I reviewed “Men, Women & Children” out of Toronto, I felt it was clearly better than Reitman's last uneven effort, “Labor Day,” but still had significant problems. While the drama seemed to run out of gas as it went along, Elgort's performance, in particular, was compelling. What I did not expect was for my review to be one of only four “positive” reviews on Metacritic (I gave it a B- grade). In fact, the film has earned a career low for Reitman on that site (37 out of 100) as well as on the larger critic aggregator Rotten Tomatoes (31%).
To say movie reviewers have gone after the film with their knives is something of an understatement. And if you don't think Paramount is shocked by the critical reaction, you should realize the studio never would have slotted “Men, Women & Children” during this release frame if they thought it would receive this sort of response.
Keeping all this in mind, let's take a step back shall we? Let's journey back to the first weekend of September when the reviews for “Children” had not broken yet and the cast and crew were in much happier spirits. Enter Jennifer Garner, enthusiastic over the film's prospects.
Garner plays Patricia Beltmeyer, a mother who is somewhat obsessed with monitoring her daughter's social media activities. Even the most conservative parent may question how involved Patricia is with trying to protect her daughter from every conceivable threat online. Garner understood where the character is coming from noting, “I don't think you have to do much research to be freaked out about the internet for kids.”
Parents aren't perfect and Garner saw Patricia in the context of a mom who soon realizes that “even when you are doing your hardest to do your best you can, you can still screw it up.”
The project came to Garner in a memorable way. Both she and Reitman were flying to Cleveland where she was finishing shooting Ivan Reitman's “Draft Day.” Jason (we assume) was visiting his father. He gave her the script to read on the plane for her opinion and by the time they had landed, Garner had completed it and accepted the role of Patricia.
The 42-year-old mother of three says she considers Reitman something of a mentor and, as with other filmmakers, take a part without even reading the script. She has had some luck in that regard over the years.
“When [J.J. Abrams] said I'm writing something for you…I never had to read it,” Garner recalls. “When I read the pilot of 'Alias' I was like, 'Yes!'”
For more on Garner's thoughts on “Men, Women & Children,” watch the complete interview in the video embedded at the top of this post.
“Men, Women & Children” is now playing in limited release. It opens nationwide on Oct. 17.