In the Land of Women (2007)

8 Jul

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“In the Land of Women” is a character-based film that relates to the feelings and redemptive aspects that are felt after a breakup. After a relationship ends, sometimes a person needs a change of scenery. In that change of scenery, that person runs into situations or people who either help him or need his help (sometimes, it’s both) and in this process, each person involved in this experience has a chance to get over their plight. This is essentially what happens in Jonathan Kasdan’s “In the Land of Women.” With good acting, convincing drama, and an understated manner, this is an effective film.

Adam Brody plays Carter Webb, a struggling young writer who writes softcore porn. His girlfriend, Sofia (Elena Anaya), has just dumped him, leaving him heartbroken and uncomfortable. In order to get over this recent breakup, he decides to leave town for a while, and uses the excuse to visit his senile grandmother (Olympia Dukakis) who believes she is dying. He becomes her caretaker for his time spent in this Michigan town, and thus he finds himself “in the land of women.” Aside from his grandmother, two other women come into Carter’s life, and they live right across the street. They’re Sarah (Meg Ryan), with whom Carter becomes friends as they share casual walks around the neighborhood, and her oldest daughter Lucy (Kristen Stewart), who is going through the confusing times of dating in high school and sees Carter as kind of a “big brother,” if nothing more. (There’s also the precocious younger girl in the family, Paige (Makenzie Vega), who develops a crush on Carter. A small flaw in the movie—this subplot goes nowhere.)

Sarah is going through a rough, reflective time in her life, having discovered she has breast cancer and also that her husband is having an affair, which even Lucy knows. And she also feels that Lucy does not love her very much, which she herself blames for certain mistakes in the past. Lucy is having trouble finding the right guy to date in high school, and even dates the complete-jerk of a football-quarterback when she should be dating the kid’s friend, who is actually nice, attentive, and shy. With each woman’s issue, Carter finds he is able to comfort the vulnerable Sarah and give advice to Lucy, even when it may seem that Lucy may actually have a crush on him. Does she or is she even more confused?

Despite what I’ve just described, “In the Land of Women” is not a love story. This came as a pleasant surprise, because while watching this film, I thought I could predict the typical “romcom” aspects that would come with the territory. But no, it’s just that these sweet moments between Carter and Sarah and Carter and Lucy serve as ways in helping each other out through either harsh or unclear points in life. They learn a couple things from one another, Lucy and Sarah can reconcile as mother-and-daughter, and Carter grows as a person. There are many effective scenes in this film that go with that amount of feel, and the film as a whole becomes touching without seeming manipulative. At times, though, it can be a bit too much. The payoff involving the Olympia Dukakis character feels forced and unconvincing. And also, a few scenes turn out to be arguably a little too cute.

The actors are quite good in “In the Land of Women.” Adam Brody is very likable as the nice, reactive leading man; Kristen Stewart is very appealing as Lucy; and Meg Ryan delivers her best performance in quite a while—she has the same Meg-Ryan appeal that made her famous in romantic comedies (such as “When Harry Met Sally”), but more importantly, she shows a greater sense of maturity that makes her more than what she’s usually known for. She’s great here. Also good is Makenzie Vega as grade-schooler Paige, Lucy’s sister and Sarah’s youngest daughter—she’s precocious but not annoyingly so. These actors add to the charm and realism of this effective, understated drama.

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