Going nowhere 'In the Land of Women'
"In the Land of Women" sounds like a piece of cheap science fiction about the last man on earth. If you're the lovelorn mother and daughter in Jonathan Kasdan's first movie, a grating romantic drama, that's painfully close to the truth.
But first: about the man. After his famous Spanish actress girlfriend (Elena Anaya ) dumps him (reasons unarticulated), Carter Webb (Adam Brody ) retreats from Los Angeles to the suburbs of Michigan. Carter's stated goals while on retreat include caring for his vulgarly demented grandmother (Olympia Dukakis , straining for comedy), turning in a script for work (he writes soft-core porn), and at long last completing his screenplay, tentatively called "The West L.A. High School Project." This would please his mother, played by JoBeth Williams.
In Michigan, Carter winds up in a romantic mess with the family across the street from grandma. Sarah Hardwicke (Meg Ryan ) stays at home, while her two girls (one a tween , one a teen) think about boys and her husband has an affair. Making matter grimmer: She's just been diagnosed with breast cancer. No one's happy over there -- until Carter shows up.
With Sarah, he goes for a long, sunny dog-walk. During their talk, she defends herself for not working. It's always nice to see Ryan, but not like this: shiny and begging for our sympathy.
With teenage beauty Lucy (Kristen Stewart ), he listens to her complaints about her mother and fields questions about kissing.
The Hardwicke women develop intense crushes on this cute, sensitive visitor. The mother tries to foist the daughter on him. Does the daughter know he's got a thing for her mom? Does the mom want to make a bequest to her daughter if, God forbid, the chemo doesn't work? Is the father ever home? No one is conniving or desperate enough for the movie to become a decent melodrama. And the conversations are too stale to culminate in interesting romance.
Kasdan is the son of the writer-director Lawrence Kasdan and the brother of Jake , whose satire "The TV Set" opens in Boston today. And he doesn't appear to have anything fresh to say as a filmmaker. His movie seems very much the product of someone who has never left Los Angeles (the most loving shot in the picture is of the Hollywood hipster diner the 101) and who has experienced life by watching it in John Hughes movies and on Fox. Indeed, every young person in this film uses the halting, self-conscious speech that was a hallmark of a show like "Party of Five ."
Adam Brody got his big break on a Fox show, "The O.C. ," and he was the most exciting actor ever to offer a line reading on the network. His nervous stammering was sardonic, lyrical, and smart. It was also spontaneous. In a literal sense, he was a natural. I don't know whether Brody has actorly or comedic greatness in him. But he has an unconventional sort of screen presence that makes you eager to find out.
There's an electric spark in him that Jack Lemmon , Dustin Hoffman , and Richard Dreyfuss had in their youth. But they had some brilliant material. Kasdan gives Brody cliches. Hollywood seems at a loss for talented young directors ready to speak to or about the kids the film industry is desperate to pander to. Forget there being no Billy Wilder . There's no Cameron Crowe .
Directors who work outside the system or around it, guys like Andrew Bujalski, who made "Mutual Appreciation," and Joe Swanberg who made "LOL," (sadly, we're talking only about white males), have found ways to make personal movies that are both generational statements and idiosyncratic works of art. The rub, of course, is that more people will probably see Kasdan's film this weekend than have seen all of Bujalski's or Swanberg's combined.