In the Land of Women

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"In the Land of Women," the debut feature from writer-director Jonathan Kasdan, probably needed more originality than is on display. With an age-old cinema theme of a young man's maturation, it also needs to land female ticket-buyers but seems a lot like something women could find at home on the WE channel.

On the plus side, this is not a younger man/older woman plot exactly. Rather it's a fish-out-of-water story, which opens with 26-year-old Carter Webb (Adam Brody in his first film lead) getting dumped by his stunning foreign and famous girlfriend (Elena Anaya). His screenwriting aspirations have never gotten off the ground, so he ekes out a living in Los Angeles by writing porn movies. When his mother (JoBeth Williams) tells him that Grandma Phyllis (Olympia Dukakis) out in Michigan is not faring well, he decides to go stay with her and take stock of his life.

Carter arrives in the upper-middle-class suburban neighborhood and is oblivious to the fact that, despite every other home resembling a page out of Architectural Digest, Phyllis' front yard and house look like an overgrown witch's hovel. No matter -- you can be sure that his elderly grandmother is as bossy and wisecracking as any TV sitcom character.

Of more interest plot-wise is the family living directly across the street. They are the American lite version of an Ingmar Bergman household: guilt-ridden WASPs in an austere, well-appointed but clutter-free setting (Crate & Barrel is given a plug here). They consist of parents Sarah and Nelson Hardwicke (Meg Ryan, Clark Gregg) and two daughters: sullen teen beauty Lucy ("Panic Room's" Kristen Stewart, second-billed) and her precocious younger sister, Paige (Makenzie Vega).

Carter gets to know Sarah through long walks and eventually learns secrets about both her and her husband. He also has encounters with Lucy. Improbably, he gets involved in sorting out her high school love life and a predictable longtime rift with her mom. Carter, the handsome outsider, is such a perfect sounding board that more than one impromptu embrace ensues.

The lanky Brody ("The O.C."), a throwback to Michael Sarrazin, does what is asked of him in a cast full of perfunctory performances. Director of photography Paul Cameron does a commendable job with sun-dappled jogging montages and leafy glades, though either he or his writer-director seems to have something of a mirror fetish. The score is by (of all people) Stephen Trask ("Hedwig and the Angry Inch"). There also are snippets of hit tunes by Bruce Springsteen, Huey Lewis & the News and Foreigner, so of course this cannot be a TV movie after all.

IN THE LAND OF WOMEN
Warner Bros. Pictures
Castle Rock Entertainment/Anonymous Content
Credits:
Director-screenwriter: Jonathan Kasdan
Producers: Steve Golin, David Kanter
Executive producer: Lawrence Kasdan
Director of photography: Paul Cameron
Production designer: Sandy Cochrane
Music: Stephen Trask
Costume designer: Trish Keating
Editor: Carol Littleton
Cast:
Carter: Adam Brody
Lucy: Kristen Stewart
Sarah: Meg Ryan
Phyllis: Olympia Dukakis
Paige: Makenzie Vega
Sofia: Elena Anaya
Nelson: Clark Gregg
Agnes: JoBeth Williams
Running time -- 98 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
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