The feature film debut from writer-director Jonathan Kasdan, In the Land of Women is a tale of post-collegiate crisis that comes off as The Graduate as reimagined by the Lifetime Channel.
Adam Brody (The O.C.'s Seth Cohen) plays Carter Webb, a Los Angeles screenwriter who breaks up with his model-actress girlfriend during the film's opening credits and moves back to his Michigan home to care for his ailing grandmother (Olympia Dukakis) and work on an autobiographical screenplay.
Back home, Carter, like Dustin Hoffman's Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate, becomes entangled both with an older woman and her daughter. Here though, the tone is more gentle, the resolution more hopeful, and the relationships, while intimate, more platonic.
Carter first befriends across-the-street neighbor Sarah Hardwicke (Meg Ryan), an unhappy housewife whom he joins on long walks with her English bulldog. Impressed by her new friend, who doesn't seem to know anyone else in town, Sarah encourages her reluctant teenage daughter Lucy (Kristen Stewart) to take Carter out to a movie.
After playing comically against type in the Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie shoot-'em-up Mr. & Mrs. Smith, this is Brody's first major film role that allows him to essentially play a version of the likable, brainy, neurotic sad-sack he inhabited on The O.C. (The television-to-cinema transition and homecoming plotline also rhymes with Zach Braff's Garden State.) Though written and directed by a guy and told from Carter's perspective, Brody's character here comes off as sort of a feminine fantasy: sensitive, smart, funny, kind, a good listener ready to grow as a person from the wisdom of women in his life.
Like so many of the films of his father, Lawrence (the director of The Big Chill), Kasdan's debut takes suburban comfort for granted but does well with actors. Ryan is aging well, her performance here less cutesy than in her more celebrated '80s roles. Stewart is as believable and attractive a teenager as I've seen on the screen lately. Dukakis ably chews the scenery as an entirely unsentimental golden girl. ("I love children ...," she says in a bit of absent-minded small talk, before catching herself: "That's not true. I used to. Now I resent them.") And Brody's Carter is a winning figure at the center of the movie, though more as performed than as written.
This pleasant, minor movie sometimes stumbles, mostly relating to the script. Carter is a screenwriter who pumps out Skinemax-style softcore porn — an unnecessary and not very believable affectation. (I don't think soft-porn screenwriters are scumbags or anything. But I also doubt they're sensitive souls itching to move back home to take care of their grandmothers.) And a final twist that allows Memphian Ginnifer Goodwin to appear as the last woman in Carter's life is a bit of page-bound gimmickry that ends the movie on a too self-satisfied note.
In the Land of Women
Opens Friday, April 20th