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No Need to Visit the "Land of Women"

  • Stephen McGarvey Editor-in-Chief, Crosswalk.com
  • 2007 4 Apr
  • COMMENTS
No Need to Visit the "Land of Women"

Release Date:  April 20, 2007
Rating:  PG-13 (for sexual content, thematic elements and language)
Genre:  Drama, Romance, Comedy
Run Time:  97 min.
Director:  Jon Kasdan
Actors:  Adam Brody, Kristen Stewart, Meg Ryan, Olympia Dukakis, Makenzie Vega, Clark Gregg

Not since the Vince Vaughn-Jennifer Aniston film “The Break-Up” have trailers for a movie been more misleading. From the Vaughn-Aniston previews last year, we were given the sense that the film would be a slapstick romantic comedy. As it turned out, although in some ways interesting, “The Break-Up” was neither particularly romantic, nor terribly funny.

We get the same bait and switch with TV trailers for “In the Land of Women.” The advertising tries to convince us that this is a fun little romantic comedy. It’s not. Rather it is a mostly depressing Lifetime-movie-of the-week story with all the brooding characters trying to “find themselves.”

We meet young Carter Webb (Adam Brody) as his gorgeous supermodel girlfriend is breaking up with him. The gloomy writer decides he needs a change of pace from his hip Los Angeles lifestyle and heads to Michigan to live with his shut-in grandmother Phyllis (Olympia Dukakis). Phyllis, who tells everyone she is dying when she’s not, seems to be slipping into senility and needs some looking after. At first it seems like this perceived selflessness is more about Carter’s journey to find himself than helping grandma. But Carter’s loving care for the aging grandmother he hardly knows is one of the most endearing elements of the film.

Soon after his arrival, Carter is befriended by Sarah Hardwicke (Meg Ryan), a stay-at-home mom from across the street. The lethargic Sarah, bored with her life, invites Carter along on her daily walks with the dog. Over the course of their times together Sarah shares with Carter the woes of her life:  her husband (Clark Gregg) is having an affair, her teenage daughter Lucy (Kristen Stewart) doesn’t get along with her, she’s not sure if her life has any meaning, etc. etc. – all the typical movie problems of suburban women. An odd emotional bond develops between Carter and Sarah.

At the same time Sarah encourages Lucy to befriend Carter as well. Lucy, of course, thinks that’s “totally lame,” but eventually opens up to the neighborhood newcomer. So an emotional bond develops between them as well, as Carter advises Lucy on how to deal with her high school woes and her strained relationship with her mother. Strangely enough, no one tells Carter (until much later in the film) that doctors think Sarah may have breast cancer, and the family is dealing with that burden as well.

Thus, we are subject to long, aimless conversations as Carter and Sarah walk the dog, as Carter and Lucy hang out at the football field, and it all gets rather tedious as we watch these characters spend their days trying to figure out themselves and their problems. As Carter begins to become more and more involved with the family, he begins to develop some romantic feelings toward Sarah. At the same time, it’s clear that the troubled Lucy is beginning to develop feelings toward him. It all gets rather distasteful as we watch these inappropriate relationships grow. The film seems to tell us it is just fine that Carter and Sarah get so emotionally intimate. Her husband cheats on her, and her family doesn’t appreciate her and on and on. Although the audience can see from miles away where things are headed, everyone on the other side of the screen seems clueless.

Fortunately all this seriousness is broken up by the antics of Grandma Phyllis and Carter’s kindhearted attempts to take care of her. The always hilarious Olympia Dukakis steals the show as the belligerent grandmother. To the rest of the world she’s just a mean old shut-in, but we see she has a heart of gold. As many times as we’ve seen this character in a movie, you would think we would tire of it. But Dukakis makes it all fun to watch. And for the most part, the acting in “Land of Women” is exceptional, and the characters are likable. If only they had something interesting to do and say in all the long scenes of walking and talking, but the banal dialogue is hard to stomach.

As the story plods along to its conclusion, the meaning of it all is a bit muddled. We’re just not sure where things are going here until the end (and not in the cool mystery way like on the TV show “Lost”). Despite the self-absorption of Carter, Sarah and Lucy, they manage to help one another grow into better people. Only in the movies does such narcissism give us a happy ending.

AUDIENCE:  Adults (Don’t let the trailers fool you. This is not a teen romantic comedy.)

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity:  A handful of obscenities and profanities.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  Carter writes screenplays for “soft-core porn” movies for a living although he longs to write things that are more redeeming. Some of his cringe-worthy “work” is described. Carter (in his mid-twenties) develops romantic relationships with both mom Sarah (who is married) and her teenage daughter Lucy (still in high school), although these don’t seem to progress physically beyond kissing. Sarah’s husband is having an affair that everyone knows about but no one confronts him on. Grandma Phyllis comes to the door without her pants on. Nothing graphic is shown and it is played for laughs.
  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Lucy hides her smoking from parents. Drinking shown at party full of teens. Adult characters drink wine at dinner.
  • Violence:  Fist fight at a party.
  • Worldview:  Sarah may have cancer which leads to good deal of discussion about sickness and death. Daughter Paige admits to stealing cash from her mother.