In the Land of Women (2007)
Nepotism is about as prevalent in Hollywood as venereal diseases. Plenty of people get their foot in the door because they just so happen to share genetic material with successful filmmakers. It happens all the time in the world of business, and movies rake in the cash, so the Kasdan clan isn’t any exception to the rule. Papa Lawrence has a storied pedigree. He’s responsible for Body Heat, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Big Chill, The Accidental Tourist, and two, count ’em, two Star Wars movies (the good ones). His oldest son Jake has directed Zero Effect and Orange County. Now younger son Jon Kasdan is taking the leap into the family business with In the Land of Women.
Carter (Adam Brody) is a Los Angeles writer for soft-core pornography. He?s just been dumped by an up and coming Spanish actress (Elena Anaya). He feels lost and comes up with a plan that will help inspire him to write his serious novel that’s been gestating for ten years. He heads out to a small Michigan suburb to live with his crabby hypochondriac grandmother (Olympia Dukakis). Across the street is a glum family. Sarah (Meg Ryan) is coping with raising a family and undergoing chemotherapy for the lump in her breast. Her teen daughter Lucy (Kristen Stewart) is full of angst and hates her mom. Carter inserts himself into the family’s life and may just heal longstanding wounds.
In the Land of Women is a strange experience because it feels like the entire movie is cobbled together by subplots. There doesn’t seem to be a strong central storyline, a strong central character, or any real connective tissue. You start to feel the lack of direction and discipline from Kasdan. The characters are all underdeveloped when they aren’t behaving in unbelievable manners. This is another drama where the characters take long strolls and wax introspectively about their life, spelling everything out with rare clarity to strangers. This would be more permissible had the film presented any other avenue for character development. Ryan gets the sick mom storyline, Stewart gets the awkward and angry teen storyline, and Dukakis gets the crazy grandma storyline. It may be a land of women but these aren’t very well constructed women, and I’m uncertain what exactly Carter has learned from this supposedly life-changing experience. He met some women, he listened; in fact, I think that’s where the film takes its first wrong turn. Carter is a self-described great listener, so guess what happens when he meets women who have bottled up their secrets and true feelings? Yep, he listens. And we watch him listen for most of the movie. This allows characters to unload dramatic monologues that do the major work for characterization, but it still keeps our main character, the traveler to the titular land of women, as nothing more than a low-key cipher. He’s a handsome couch for the female characters to unwind. When Carter is typing his Big Serious Novel I’m clueless as to how he has changed as a person and how he reached his point of enlightenment.
I get the unmistakable feeling that Kasdan is really trying to make his own Garden State. This is another story of personal maturation and it takes places with a visit home to a simpler life with comic oddballs. He’s taken the elements that made Garden State click, including a hip and frequently heard soundtrack, but Kasdan must have missed the part where Garden State benefits from strong, likeable characters and a plot. Just like Carter, Kasdan is striving for something grandiose to say about the world, but the end results are no better, and no worse, than something you could catch on a nondescript cable channel. The movie is stuffed with familiar moments, like the bustling teen party, the precocious teen wise beyond her years, the feeble love triangles, and the asshole jock boyfriend. The handful of new wrinkles that Kasdan does explore is easily forgotten; Carter’s job deserves far more discussion. When the Hollywood life butts back in Kasdan doesn’t push the juxtaposition as hard as he should, so Carter’s troubles feel puny, especially compared with cancer. In the Land of Women has some touching moments to it and an occasional wise bit of dialogue, and they stand out amongst an otherwise underwhelming panorama.
In the Land of Women reaches its awkward peaks when it treats Carter?s mother-daughter interaction like two choices for romance. Carter is supposed to be 25, making him about 20 years younger than mom and 10 years older than daughter. In my book, that’s an “ick” on both accounts. Carter gets to smooch both women (hell, one of the kisses is the poster) and the audience gets to squirm both times. Our sense of guilt is alleviated by multiple characters telling us that Sarah’s father is having an affair, so then it shouldn’t matter if she finds understanding and warmth in the arms of a young emo pup. But what makes these sidesteps so awful is how clumsy and meaningless they prove to be.
The acting in the movie is well done. Brody is apt for a romantic comedy leading man. He’s got oodles of laid back charisma and a winning sense of humor that made him the breakout star of a prime time soap. He’s affable and enjoyable to watch, but his relaxed acting style doesn’t help an undefined character. Stewart is a wonderfully natural actress and largely communicates with her gangly physicality. She has the teen contempt down perfect and looks like an average teenager, which compounds how icky it seems to see her kiss Carter. Ryan hasn’t been onscreen in 3 years, and to tell the truth, I kind of missed her. She gets some standard emotional scenes as an afflicted, underappreciated mother and sells them well.
Jon Kasdan’s filmmaking debut isn’t going to do much to redefine his artistic image other than that of a lucky genetic benefactor. In the Land of Women is earnest and well acted, but the movie is just far too underdeveloped and shapeless to succeed. The film is a collection of non-starting subplots and familiar elements; you just feel that the movie needs a kick in the ass to get on track. The soundtrack is pleasant, the production is competently made, but the story is ultimately lacking and underwhelming. The land of women and men deserves better.
Nate’s Grade: B-