In the Land of Women (United States, 2007)
In the Land of Women is enjoyable for a movie in which pretty much nothing happens. The things that occur during the course of Jonathan (son of Lawrence) Kasdan's debut feature are all subtle and character-based. This is the sort of motion picture one might assume was made in France if everyone wasn't speaking perfect English and setting was somewhere more exotic than Michigan. In the Land of Women is comprised of a number of nice little scenes that, while they don't combine to form something momentous, are each effective in their own low-key manner.
Carter Webb (Adam Brody) is a struggling 26-year old writer who pays the bills by writing soft core porn screenplays. When his girlfriend, Sofia (Elena Anaya), dumps him, Carter decides he needs a change of scenery. So he flies to Michigan to live with his aging, senile grandmother, Phyllis (Olympia Dukakis), and act as her caretaker. This leads Carter to meet the family across the street, the Hardwickes. He quickly becomes friends with Sarah (Meg Ryan), who is going through a reflective and vulnerable period because of a lump she recently discovered in one breast. Sarah's oldest daughter, Lucy (Kristin Stewart), finds Carter's easygoing manner and confidence appealing. And grade-schooler Paige (Makenzie Vega) develops a crush on her new neighbor.
While this premise could easily be used as the starting point for a letter that begins "Dear Penthouse…", Kasdan takes the high road. Despite the tender moments between Carter and Sarah and Carter and Lucy, this isn't a love story. It's about the younger man offering comfort to the troubled older woman when her life seems to be falling apart and about that same younger man providing big brotherly advice to a teenage girl. In the process, he grows a little and is able to move past the tragedy of his break-up. (Will Lifetime purchase the TV rights?)
In the larger picture, none of the relationships are developed with much depth. Secondary characters like Phyllis, Sofia, and Carter's mother (JoBeth Williams) fade into the background. This is not one of these movies where the characters have profound, lasting impacts upon each other's lives. But In the Land of Women offers moments to savor: the casual walk that Sarah and Carter take while discussing life and love, Lucy's confessions to Carter, and the hospital reconciliation between mother and daughter. Even with the breast cancer subplot, the movie succeeds in being touching without resorting to overt manipulation. This isn't a three-tissue movie. It's heartfelt but not heartwrenching. The final scene, however, may be a little too cute.
Adam Brody does what the lead actor in a movie like this should do: seem like a nice guy who has been wounded. The character is reactive not proactive. Kristen Stewart, one of the few good things in the otherwise unwatchable The Messengers, shows a lot of energy and enthusiasm. She reminds us how conflicted teenagers are about everything, especially parents and members of the opposite sex, and how they may be more insightful about some things than adults suspect. The most interesting performance belongs to Meg Ryan, who has (at least for this movie) given up the romantic comedy for something more basic. The quality that made her appealing in movies like When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle is still present, but tempered by maturity and free of some of Ryan's more annoying mannerisms. Watching Sarah is like seeing a What If? drama in which Sally Albright got married, grew older, then looked back on her life through the shades of mild regret and disappointment that time often imparts.
Jonathan Kasdan becomes the fourth member of the talented family to have a movie to his name, joining father Lawrence, brother Jake, and uncle Mark. With In the Land of Women, Kasdan has elected to start out small. By not overreaching, he has produced an effective character-based drama that should have strong appeal to women. The movie is being used as counterprogramming to thrillers and horror movies, and should find its niche (if not in theaters then on DVD). It's the kind of production that's pleasant to watch because it allows viewers to spend some time with believable characters who face "regular" problems, but do so without becoming boring or overly familiar. In the Land of Women is a reasonable choice if you're looking for something less frenetic than the usual multiplex fare.
In the Land of Women (United States, 2007)
Cast: Adam Brody, Meg Ryan, Kristen Stewart, Makenzie Vega, Olympia Dukakis, JoBeth Williams, Elena Anaya
Screenplay: Jonathan Kasdan
Cinematography: Paul Cameron
Music: Stephen Trask
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers