In the Land of Women Review
By Joe Lozito
If you're going to spend time in a land of women, you can't ask for much better than Olympia Dukakis, JoBeth Williams and Meg Ryan. Throw in young Kristen Stewart and this sounds like a land worth visiting. Unfortunately, "In the Land of Women", writer-director Jonathan Kasdan's achingly sincere study of a writer who leaves Los Angeles to care for his ailing grandmother, never gives its talented cast - led by Adam Brody from "The O.C." - a chance to flex its considerable muscles.
The film opens on a break-up. Carter Webb's supermodel girlfriend Sofia (the Spanish actress Elena Anaya) is in the process of dumping him. Carter, a struggling writer making a living writing soft-core porn, makes the spur of the moment decision to move out to suburban Michigan to care for his grandma (Ms. Dukakis, in a role she could do in her sleep) and work on that novel he's always wanted to write. Luckily for Carter, living across the street from grandma's house is the Hardwicke family, who are in dire need of the type of healing only a young struggling writer in a movie like this can provide. Mother Sarah (Ms. Ryan, still trying to find her way in a post-Sally world) is diagnosed with breast cancer. Her estranged daughter Lucy (Ms. Stewart, frightfully thin) is unsure if she should kiss the high school jock (yeah, right). And youngest daughter Paige (newcomer Makenzie Vega) is so preposterously precocious she must be plotted her escape from this loony bin.
I admired Adam Brody's choice to make Carter almost unforgivably self-obsessed, but it does make for a less than empathetic protagonist. Further, since the film opens with a break-up, we never see Carter as anything but unhappy. It's hard to imagine what Ms. Anaya's supermodel saw in him to begin with. Plus, like Ms. Stewart, he's thin as a rail. As Sarah, Ms. Ryan does some nice work in a role that's telegraphed from the get-go. It's good to see the actress back in action, but she needs more to do. Meanwhile, in the role Evan Rachel Wood is wondering why she didn't get, Ms. Stewart evokes a proper air of spoiled youth as Lucy. It turns out Lucy's also something of a painter, angrily swiping her brush across the canvas and - a quick montage later - producing some sort of telling masterpiece. But Lucy's problems - like many in the film - are nothing a good "hey, wake up!" speech couldn't cure.
Writer-director Jonathan Kasdan - he of the much-loved, short-lived "Freaks and Geeks" - is no stranger to quirky characters. But why is it then that the characters in "Land" - especially the high schoolers - ring so false? He stacks the deck so far against them - the break-up, the cancer, an affair - that the film verges too close to "After School Special" material (one house party scene is particularly painful). Plus, oddly, almost every relationship in the film borders on inappropriateness. Sarah is too old (and married) for Carter and Lucy is too young. Thankfully, nothing gets much more serious than an angst-y kiss - but does it have to happen on the front lawn? Haven't these people seen even one soap opera?
Mr. Kasdan possesses some of his father's gift for tone, but little of his depth. "Land" is not his "Big Chill". It plays more like "Garden State" crossed with "Terms of Endearment" - which actually sounds pretty good. But Mr. Kasdan's script is too self-conscious to evoke any real emotion. There are moments of honesty and insight sprinkled around the contrivances, but not enough to amount to anything. "Land" feels semi-autobiographical. Hopefully, Mr. Kasdan has worked out his demons and, like Carter, is in the process of creating his masterpiece.