A first feature about a romantically failed young writer whose ideas and attitudes about women are dramatically shaken by a beautiful older woman and her daughter, Jonathan Kasdan's In the Land Of Women shows promise and ambition, abetted by strong acting and colourful writing. At the say time it suffers from the limitations and problems of many autobiographically shaped first works, its naturalness and grace undercut by an erratic tone and a director's reach exceeding his grasp.
The movie's antecedents are clear, pirouetting and bouncing off Cameron Crowe's early comedies Say Anything and Singles, Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise and Before Sunset diptych and most significantly, Zach Braff's Garden State. Like those titles, the new film's dominant mode of expression is talk and the elastic forms of language, conversation and self-revelation that reveal character, feeling and action.
The 27-year-old Kasdan is the younger brother of Jake Kasdan (Zero Effect, The TV Show). His father, Hollywood studio director Lawrence Kasdan (Body Heat, Silverado) is the movie's executive producer; the senior Kasdan's longtime collaborator, co-editor Carol Littleton, helps administer the movie's polish.
JoBeth Williams, so memorable in Lawrence Kasdan's The Big Chill, has a small, pivotal role playing the hero's mother. Furthermore, Jonathan Kasdan has acknowledged the inspiration of his father's 1991 ensemble work, Grand Canyon, in developing his own script.
Domestically, Warner Independent Pictures opens the movie on April 20, and it has the prominent hook, of Meg Ryan. But the movie's more attuned to the younger players; as such In the Land Of Women seems more likely to engage the young, weekend date crowd than young professionals and slightly older women who typically gravitate around Ryan's films.
The theatrical returns are, as with the movie, likely to be somewhat modest and unprepossessing, setting up stronger returns in ancillary markets overseas, through cable and on DVD.
Brody plays Carter Webb, a bright, good looking 26-year-old whose professional disappointment -writing scripts for sordid, low budget adult films - compounds the pain of a private life now scorched by the break-up of his relationship to the beautiful actress and model Sofia (Anaya).
Determined to complete a more personal script, Carter impulsively abandons Los Angeles for a placid Michigan suburb to visit his ailing grandmother, Phyllis (Dukakis).
Wholly unprepared to deal with his grandmother's dementia, Carter finds emotional sanctuary in the unfamiliar friendship he edges toward with the beguiling Sarah Hardwicke (Ryan). Inventively structuring their interaction around a series of walks, Kasdan achieves his most relaxed and sustained work smartly playing off their emotional transactions. Carter's natural cockiness, ease and privilege are sharply refuted and countered by Sarah's smart, direct and natural manner.
Sarah urges her attractive 17-year-old daughter, Lucy (Stewart) to socialise with Carter, an action that shifts the movie's emotional balance. As Carter attempts to work out his feelings about Lucy, it naturally complicates his relationship to the suddenly very wary and highly protective Sarah.
Already emotionally ratcheted up, these sections are additionally heightened by Sarah's physical deterioration occasioned by the discovery of a serious illness.
Like Grand Canyon, the movie attempts to infuse the serious with the comic, and the results are mixed. Kasdan is not nearly experienced or skilled enough to capably layer these different strands. A sequence in the rain that leads to a powerful though awkward embrace between Carter and Sarah is emblematic of the movie's uncertainty and strangely unresolved dramatic tension.
The subplot involving Dukakis feels increasingly imported from a different film, the broader embarrassment and violation a fairly transparent effort to balance the darker material with laughter and painful recognition that often feels very strained and awkwardly incorporated.
Paul Cameron (Collateral) gives the images a tactile precision; for all of the movie's messiness, editors Littleton and Marty Levenstein help assemble a recognisable order.
But it is very much an actors' showcase, with the three leads acquitting themselves quite well. Ryan delivers a shaded, natural performance as a suburban mother coping with a private trauma, while Brody imparts a loquacious charm and tenderness well suited to the part. Stewart bracingly captures the ambiguity and alienation of a young woman on the cusp of adulthood.
Special mention is also due Makenzie Vega as Sarah's younger daughter, precocious and funny without being sentimental.
Castle Rock Entertainment
Warner Independent Pictures
Warner Independent Pictures