When Carter is dumped by his actress girlfriend Sofia, he leaves the craziness of Los Angeles for suburban Detroit to care for his sick grandmother. While there he meets a family of women and together they try to figure out the mystery of love.
Meg Ryan spent most of her career perfecting the chick flick. With such favorite chick movies as When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, Ryan proved to be the woman to call if you needed to cast a film of this type. As she has gotten older, she has branched out and tried to find her niche, unsuccessfully in standard film fare, but her true marketability lies in the realm of the chick flick. Her return to that realm here is in a slightly different role, and it shows a growth in her characters that may prove to be the successful next step in her career that she needs.
Ryan plays a woman in this film, Sarah, who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. She is also the mother of two girls, one a teenager named Lucy (Kristen Stewart). Sarah and Lucy have not gotten along well over the years, dating back to a time when Lucy was accused of promiscuity when she was 11. Lucy believes her mother was not there for her when she needed her, casting an un-trustful eye on her daughter instead of being on her side. The idea is kind of pedestrian when you think of it, but the best part of the movie is that it does not pretend it is a giant problem, and Lucy is even told that this kind of thing happens to everyone.
The giver of that wisdom is Carter, played perfectly by Adam Brody. Adam carries this movie on his shoulders and shows that he will soon be ready to step into these kinds of roles in larger movies with no trouble at all. Carter is a 26 year old screenwriter, who specializes in soft core porn. When the movie begins, he is being dumped by his actress girlfriend Sofia. While falling into a deep depression, he learns that his grandmother has called with the news she is dying. Carter agrees to go to Detroit to help watch over her and attempt to write a story he has wanted to write for years.
His grandmother lives across the street from Sarah and Lucy who Carter quickly develops friendships with. The movie deals with these friendships and how Carter, with his big city upbringing, is able to help the women, with their small town experiences, deal with their problems. With Sarah, he is the person to listen to her sorrow and fear over what uncertainties her future may hold. With Lucy, he is able to explain that what she is feeling is normal and there are so many other big, bad things out there in the world, that she cannot let the small hurdles in life trip her up. Along the way, he is able to see that he is capable of following his own advice and move on with his life.
Written and directed by Jonathan Kasdan, son of legendary writer/director Lawrence Kasdan (Raiders of the Lost Ark) and brother of Jake Kasdan (Orange County), the story is smartly written and skillfully directed. Many of the shots are beautifully framed and the story is told over a slow, easy going plot which never seems to rush you to the conclusion, allowing you to take in the scenery and enjoy the wonderful acting performances all around. It is one hell of an accomplishment for a first time feature film director and is a really good screenplay by a first time writer.
What makes the story work so well is the acting involved. Carter, at times, seems to be wiser than his age would indicate, but because his character is someone from the fast paced, cut throat world of Los Angeles, it works. He always seems more mature and wiser than the people around him but at the same time remains very insecure about himself. Adam Brody pulls it off in a way that makes him endearing and likeable. Kristen Stewart continues to improve as a young actress and does not overplay the emotional outpours that could easily slip into uncomfortable melodrama, staying at a level of realism. Meg Ryan was very engaging as a woman lost in herself, fearing her own death, and feeling a separation from her life and her family. In much the same way that Diane Keaton was able to keep you involved with her character in The Family Stone, Ryan is able to make you care about both herself and her family in this film.
I would be remiss not to mention the wonderful acting job of Olympia Dukakis in the small role as Carter’s grandmother. She was brilliant in every scene she was in, chewing up the scenery with a gusto that could not be matched. Everything she did was gold.
The movie has its problems, but nothing that would really bring it down in the enjoyment factor. I felt that the resolution with Lucy finally discovering what she needed to learn was a little flat. I also felt like Carter’s final resolution could have been handled a little better and just seemed kind of there. I understand what Kasdan was trying to do with Carter’s character but I felt it just ended without a satisfying send off for Carter. Maybe that is the point of the movie; that life just goes on. I was just hoping for something more.
Regardless, In the Land of Women is a chick flick that never strays too far into the realm of melodrama. It contains strong dialogue and great visual flair that helped it achieve a pretty high level of enjoyment. Both Brody and Kasdan prove in this picture that they will have a strong future in the business and Meg Ryan proves she is far from finished in her career as a competent and strong lead actress.
The picture looks great, with the colors crisp and clean. Everything looks great here. The sound is in Dolby 5.1 and everything sounds great as well. There are no extras except previews.