Title: In the Land of Women
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Director: Jonathan Kasdan
Screenwriters: Jonathan Kasdan
Starring: Adam Brody, Kristen Stewart, Meg Ryan
Adam Brody approaches every character with the same hyper-articulate, hyper-ironic hipster swagger. One of the things that makes In the Land of Women so interesting — and problematic — is watching Brody’s method collide with a role that’s earnest, low-key, and kind of sweet. A lavishly talented comic with a preternatural sense of timing, he seems uncomfortable letting go of the guarded, way-cooler-than-thou facade that fuels his comedy. But the result, strangely, isn’t the awkward failure one might expect. It’s true, on one hand, that he fails to sell some of the film’s sappier, more maudlin moments, but maybe they didn’t need to be sold. Maybe Brody did writer-director Jonathan Kasdan the biggest favor he knew how simply by reining in the latter’s excesses.
The character — a just-dumped soft porn screenwriter named Carter — is used to explore how narcissistic twentysomething aimlessness can become self-realization and happiness. Torn up over his split with an actress and supermodel (and who wouldn’t be?), the LA native decides to move to Michigan to care for his grandmother (Olympia Dukakis), a vaguely crazy lady who is convinced she is dying; upon his arrival in the bewildering midwestern suburbia (there is a nice subtle gag about how all the houses look the same), he gets entangled in the lives of the family across the street, including an unhappy, stifled mom (Meg Ryan) who just got news of breast cancer, and her mostly normal teenage daughter (Kristen Stewart), struggling with mostly normal teenage daughter issues. He immediately hits it off with the mom, who is touchingly flattered by his attention, and strikes up a tense friendship with the daughter — and meanwhile, the woman who dumped him starts calling him and sending mixed messages.
The film finds a nice center in Carter — it’s easy to see why people like him, though I’m not sure if Kasdan intended to making us cringe at his unbecoming mopeyness. When Meg Ryan tells him, in a Big Moment, that he’s “gonna be alright,” I thought that it would have been equally appropriate to slap him and tell him to snap out of his whiny, self-absorbed stupor. Still, to the extent that the screenplay gets at a truth about growing up and finding yourself in a sometimes nonsensical world, I think it’s more believable and profound than, say, Zach Braff’s Garden State. At least In the Land of Women recognizes that Carter is going through a phase, not an existential crisis.
Kasdan’s is the sort of perfectly acceptable, perfectly unremarkable screenplay that would probably have languished in the “unproduced” heap had it not borne the Kasdan name. It displays a real flair for charmingly witty dialogue, an unfortunate tendency to lean on TV-movie tropes (things do get a little too complicated, in a Days of Our Lives way, by the third act), and a beginner’s uncertainty with comic set pieces (a would-be showstopper involving a conversation between Carter and his boss about their latest skinflick with grandma on the other line bombs). Appealing performances from Brody, Meg Ryan and Kristen Stewart are enormously helpful in giving the film what ultimately gets it across the finish line: an endearing, shaggy-dog likability. An actor with more range may have made Carter a more complete persona, but Brody serves to keep the film from running away from Kasdan. Carter spends much of the film sulking, and Brody’s accomplishment here is making this truly seem like just a bad few weeks in the life of a decent guy who is indeed gonna be alright.