The summer megamovie season approaches. And over the last year, Hollywood poobahs have been calculating the various ways to top themselves. Overwhelmingly, they have thought in terms of bigger, louder and more spectacular. Better is measured in terms of a car crash you've not yet seen or a stunt that's not been attempted before, or a special effect just now emerging from studio computer banks. So in this last gasp before summer, it's refreshing to find a movie that settles for quiet dialogue and the concerns of the contemporary family. Though it deals with the three significant D's of divorce, disease and death, writer/director Jonathan Kasdan's In the Land of Women doesn't try to make definitive statements and it settles for tidy resolutions at odds with the messy world it depicts. It does hold you, however, and it does involve you with characters who ring true.
In the Land of Women is the story of twentysomething Carter Webb (Adam Brody), a writer of screenplays for soft-core porn flicks. Early on, we overhear Carter discussing his current script with his producer. The premise would have been funnier if he wrote the hard stuff and if Kevin Smith (Clerks) had contributed the dialogue. Carter's work provides a nice income but little satisfaction, and then his gorgeous model girlfriend Sophia (Elena Anaya) dumps him. She says she just needs some space, but actually she's started dating Colin Farrell. In response, Carter goes to visit his grandmother, and, critically, Grandma Phyllis (Olympia Dukakis) lives far from the glitter of Tinseltown, back in a leafy Michigan exurb where things are almost the way they were before Carter was born.
Phyllis is dotty and wise, saved from the whiff of Ruth Gordon clich by Dukakis' deadpan performance. Kasdan's script never gives us a clue why Carter decides to take refuge with her since it's clear the two aren't close. Nonetheless, the action is across the street from where the beautiful blonde Hardwickes live, and they meet on the street around a pile of refuse. Sarah Hardwicke (Meg Ryan) is a fortyish stay-at-home mom who has dedicated herself to child-rearing and a consuming schedule of civic activities. She has two daughters, knockout 17-year-old Lucy (Kristen Stewart) and precocious 11-year-old Paige (Makenzie Vega). She also has a lump in her breast that may be malignant and therefore may require a mastectomy.
Sarah asks Carter to help her walk her dog one day and tells the young visitor pretty much her whole story. She's both frustrated that people think because she hasn't pursued a career outside the home that she hasn't accomplished much in her life and worried that because she hasn't pursued a career outside the home that she hasn't accomplished much in her life. These feelings are aggravated by her knowledge that her husband is having an affair and that she doesn't confront him for the sake of her children and also because her life is pretty cush if she just shuts her trap and looks the other way. Carter is stirred enough by this story that he grabs Sarah and kisses her as if it's the end of a 1930s romance.
Sarah worries that Carter is lonely, and so she asks Lucy to take him to a movie. She has evidently not looked at her daughter recently or not found Carter's kisses all that stirring. Lucy's a nice kid. She's dating the high-school quarterback, and she hangs out with the other kids in the back seat of speeding convertibles with the requisite cool of any blonde in any teen movie since American Graffiti. But she's a virgin, and since she won't put out, the QB gets it on with her best friend, who will. Best friends always will, won't they? Carter is stirred enough by this story that he grabs Lucy and kisses her as if it's the end of a 1930s romance. So, in short, Mrs. Robinson, we've got complications.
But not really. Though Kasdan can't be credited with coming up with much that's original, he does have the blessing of restraint. Just when we think we've landed smack in a 21st century version of The Graduate, the script backs quickly away to concentrate on Sarah's cancer, Lucy's dawning awareness that the right guy for her may be the QB's best friend (best friends have all the luck in this movie) and the emergence of Carter as the avuncular neighbor every family wished lived just across the street. Much of this clanks, of course. Brody isn't a convincing heartthrob for Ryan or Stewart either. Far too much ground is left unexplored. And much of the resolution is facile. The whole is less than the sum of its parts. The parts, however, the individual scenes, Carter with each of his three generations of women, work pretty well. They keep us interested, they often move us and they suggest that Kasdan is a young filmmaker to watch.
- 2007 Warner Independent Pictures
- After getting dumped by his girlfriend, Carter (Adam Brody) goes back home to a Michigan suburb and keeps company with his neighbors, including teenager Lucy (Kristen Stewart) and her younger sister Paige (Makenzie Vega).