IN THE LAND OF WOMEN
Director: Jonathan Kasdan
Cast: Adam Brody, Kristen Stewart, Meg Ryan, Olympia Dukakis, Makenzie Vega, Dustin Milligan, Elena Anaya, JoBeth Williams, Clark Gregg
MPAA Rating: (for sexual content, thematic elements and language)
Running Time: 1:37
Release Date: 4/20/07
Review by Mark Dujsik
Jonathan Kasdan's feature debut proves that he has a potentially lucrative career ahead of him in the realm of soap operas—and not daytime but primetime ones. And, yes, that's a backhanded compliment. It could be worse, though; he could show promise at shoving out material that drones in the morning background of stay-at-home types. The name Kasdan is a biggie in the world of screenwriting. Jonathan's father Lawrence, it's fair to say, is one of screenwriting's elite, and his brother Jake's feature writing/directing debut was the great, overlooked Zero Effect. Jonathan's debut is not so fortunate. In the Land of Women is the kind of movie where everyone has problems, people reveal their deepest longings and fears to a person they just met, and every scene seems to start with the phrase, "I have to tell you something." It's really cheap therapy, that. Therapy might be good for most of the people in this movie, but instead, they cling to each other's trite advice and maxims, the most frequent being the movie's other most commonly spoken line, "You'll be alright." When it's not revealing the innermost secrets of characters whom we barely know (and it rarely isn't), the movie revels in melodramatic turns apparent from afar.
Carter Webb (Adam Brody) is a writer of softcore porn movies who dates the famous actress Sofia Buñuel (Elena Anaya).. The movie opens with the couple at lunch at an awkward moment. Sofia is breaking up with Carter. His mother (JoBeth Williams) is almost as upset as her son about the breakup and is also concerned about her mother, who is convinced she is about to die. Carter volunteers to stay with his grandma in Michigan. Meanwhile, across the street from Carter's grandma's house, the Hardwicke family is facing its own problems. Mother Sarah (Meg Ryan) has discovered a lump in her breast and is preparing for medical testing. She also has to deal with the knowledge that her husband Nelson (Clark Gregg) has been having an affair. Daughter Lucy (Kristen Stewart) regularly fights with her mother and is uncomfortable about the concept of having a boyfriend, dealing with her younger sister Paige's (Makenzie Vega) chirpings about her love life. So while dealing with his grandma Phyllis' (Olympia Dukakis) predictions of her imminent death, his agent constantly calling for an update on his new script, and his unwillingness to get over Sofia, Carter also takes on some of the weight of the Hardwicke women's problems.
Carter and Sarah go for walks and talk a lot about how life has kept them down. Carter worries about his relationships; Sarah worries she will live her final days with regret about what parts of her life were really her own. He tells her how he has re-read e-mails he sent Sofia, full of romantic declaration (some of the best writing he's done, he tells Sarah); Sarah tells him she's never gotten a letter like that. There is a certain amount of wisdom in these conversations, particularly a moment when Carter says that he has the tendency to project a fantasy of what a girl should be like instead of what she actually is like when he's in a relationship. These conversations make up the best moments of the movie, but even they are undermined by the singular fact that we have no idea who these people are. The dialogue helps to a degree, but even these talking sessions exist only to set up more conflict, more emotional baggage, and more opportunities for these people to better themselves. Yes, there's romantic tension between Carter and Sarah, and it's fulfilled in a rainy scene in the woods. There's also tension, though, between Carter and Lucy, which is amplified when her mother tells Lucy to take Carter out and show him the town.
Then we get some high school drama and more secrets revealed, and sappy piano music (Stephen Trask, a great musician reduced to underplaying the sentimental scenes, does the score) plays incessantly throughout. Kasdan has an obsession with mirrors here, too. People look into them a lot, and the symbolism of the juxtaposition of the face one shows the world and the hidden pain underneath is at once heavy-handed and uncomplimentary to the proceedings. These are all people who wear their heart on their sleeve. When they're not telling their deepest feelings to people they've just met, they're pining away in solitude. Phyllis, I suppose, is meant to be the comic relief to all this self-derision, but Olympia Dukakis has the unflattering task of playing the crotchety old lady who gets into everyone's business. Adam Brody fares slightly better, although one has to wonder what allure a moping twenty-something with a bored sense of sarcasm has to all these women (the title of a children's book he whips up, "Pandy: The Unlovable, Self-Destructive Teddy Bear," should give you an idea). Things devolve quickly near the end, with all the elements of healing in place for everyone, and Meg Ryan continues the tradition of actresses looking strangely luminous while dealing with a disease.
That it ends happily for all should be apparent, and that Kasdan seems to have no idea how to happily end it without resorting to trivial moves on the part of his characters is not surprising either. There's a weird, too cutesy moment of metafiction that wraps up In the Land of Women, with Carter writing a script about his adventures in Michigan and telling a cute waitress about it. Isn't it nice things can get so complicated only to be resolved so simply?
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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