In the Land of Women

| April 18, 2007

Jon Kasdan’s directorial debut, In the Land of Women, starring Adam Brody (The O.C.), Kristen Stewart (Panic Room), and Meg Ryan (You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle) has its heart in the right place and features some decent, understated performances, but it never really finds its feet and collapses under the weight of a story that wants to be everything to all people. Kasdan, who also wrote the script, is the son of legendary writer-director Lawrence Kasdan (Body Heat, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Big Chill), and the brother of writer-director Jake Kasdan (Zero Effect, Orange County). He shows flashes of the family pedigree, but ultimately falls prey to many first-timer mistakes.
In the film, Adam Brody plays Carter Webb, a young Hollywood writer. After his superstar girlfriend dumps him, he takes his broken heart back to the Michigan suburb where his senile grandmother, played by Olympia Dukakis, lives. There, he tries to pick up the pieces and figure out what went wrong, while he cares for his sick grandmother. In short order, he meets the Hardwickes across the street. He soon finds himself caught up in the lives of the Hardwicke women–mom, Sara, played by Meg Ryan, and daughter, Lucy, played by Kristen Stewart. The Hardwickes have problems of their own, and Carter quickly becomes immersed in them. Both women fall for Carter in their own way, and both help him through his heartbreak. In the end, he transforms them just as much as they transform him.
It’s all pretty standard dramedy fare. There are tears, laughter and some genuinely honest moments. One of the best elements of the picture, overall, is the dynamic at play between mother and daughter. Both Meg Ryan and Kristen Stewart show great skill in remaining understated and ambiguous in a relationship that’s become pretty standard in mainstream films–the Housewife/Mother struggling with a household and child that doesn’t need her immediate attention anymore, and the Angry Daughter who’s determined to not become as empty as she thinks her mother has become raising her. They breathe a lot of life into their scenes, their characters, and make their complicated feelings for each other–both good and bad–quite real and honest without taking the edges off.
But this is where the rub lies with In the Land of Women. It’s supposed to be a movie about Carter and Carter’s struggle to understand his relationships with women–his senile grandmother, The Hardwicke women, his ex, his mom (who keeps calling from Los Angeles). Unfortunately, Carter’s story is overwhelmed by Sara and Lucy’s story. I think part of this comes from Adam Brody’s performance, which struck me as far too laconic and easygoing. In the emotional moments, he just didn’t have weight. He didn’t stand out. The other part of it is in Meg Ryan’s performance, which is the strongest performance she’s delivered in years. Sara is a wonderful, darker extension of all those sunny, romantic comedy heroines she’s so well know for. She’s hard not to follow on screen. But the main part of the problem, I think, resides with first time writer-director, Jon Kasdan.
Kasdan definitely has skill, especially as a writer. The story features some strong characters with wonderful complexities. There are some poignant scenes scattered throughout. But, in the end, I think he sets out to please too many people. This is apparent in the choices in the movie. As a director, he seems to hold back from the more difficult story–that of the mom–in lieu of the cool guy coming to grips with love. Carter gets involved in the high school scene with Lucy, he goes to the mall, he’s very L.A. in an Entourage-light kind of way. He has wacky antics with his senile grandmother, all the while finding his sensitivity. All of this so that when he’s in a coffee shop in L.A. at the end of the movie, the cute waitress he chats up by sharing the scene he’s writing is charmed by him.
It makes it seem like Kasdan was wrestling with two movies while making In the Land of Women and couldn’t quite decide, so he chose to mix and match the two and call it one film. It undermines the whole and leaves it with a muddled and confused sensibility that’s pretty hard to shake by the time the credits roll.
In the Land of Women, written and directed by Jon Kasdan, shows moments of promise. Meg Ryan’s performance, while maybe not perfect, will remind you of her skill as an actress. In the end though, the story is schizophrenic as it moves from comedy to drama and never quite finds a balance that works. The hallmark, I think, of a film that tries to please too many people.

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