Jon Kasdan is the son of Lawrence Kasdan, who is something like Hollywood royalty. He wrote and directed “The Big Chill,” “The Accidental Tourist,” and “Grand Canyon,” among others, and wrote the screenplays for “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Return of the Jedi,” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” So it’s no surprise that Jon would go into the family business. The question is why he would make his debut with something as average and unambitious as “In the Land of Women.”
Think about it. You grow up in a house with an multiple-Oscar-nominee and accomplished filmmaker for a father. Movies are a major staple in the family entertainment diet. The opportunity arises to make one of your own … and you choose to do an indie-style dramedy about a 20-something guy who has an emotional crisis in the Big City and flees to a small town to find himself? Instead of, you know, something original or different or creative?
The angst-ridden 25-year-old du jour is Carter Webb (Adam Brody), a mid-level TV writer who’s just been dumped by his girlfriend (Elena Anaya) and needs a break from L.A. His grandmother, Phyllis (Olympia Dukakis), in suburban Michigan, has gone a bit dotty, so Carter heads out there to take care of her, regroup, gather his thoughts, and get over his lost love.
Across the street from Phyllis is the Hardwicke family. Carter becomes dog-walking buddies with the mother, Sarah (Meg Ryan), who isn’t quite old enough to be his mother but is an Older Woman nonetheless. They offer each other sympathetic ears. She believes her husband is cheating on her, which comes at rather a bad time, since she’s just learned she has breast cancer. She’s also at odds with her teenage daughter, Lucy (Kristen Stewart), who’s going through a rebellious phase, with the smoking and the yelling and the sulking and the what-have-you.
Carter comes to be friends with Lucy, too. Being older than her but younger than her mother, he’s in a good position to see both women’s points of view. Lucy is at the age where all girls hate their moms, and where a crush on the unobtainable captain of the football team seems like the most important thing in the world. Carter is a little older. He can share his wisdom with Lucy.
All the wisdom-sharing in this movie gets really old, really fast. Carter helps the ladies, the ladies help Carter, and Lucy’s precocious little sister (Mackenzie Vega) is the wisest of them all. There are too many urgent, I-can’t-stop-myself-even-though-I-know-it’s-wrong kisses. There’s even one of those scenes where someone strides purposefully through a public place (airport, mall, office) toward his or her True Love so that a meaningful and passionate kiss can be shared, all to the great surprise of the True Love, who thought he or she had been tossed aside forever. Really, Jon Kasdan? In the thousand or so movies you’ve seen where the Purposeful Stride Toward the True Love has been deployed, it never occurred to you that it had become a clichÃ©? Not actually showing us the kiss doesn’t make it any less so.
Adam Brody, of TV’s “The O.C.,” has an affable, sardonic charm that has served him well in small roles elsewhere (e.g., “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” and “Thank You for Smoking”) and could make him a good leading man, too, if he gets offered some decent scripts. He’s got that wounded puppy dog look down pat, and he’s edgier than Zach Braff (whose “Garden State” is the clear precursor to this film).
Likewise, it’s always nice to see Meg Ryan, even when she’s handed a role she can sleepwalk through, and Olympia Dukakis, who surely deserves better than this even in her advanced age.
In other words, “In the Land of Women” has a fine cast; it just doesn’t have anything worthwhile for them to do. It hits all the emotional cues right on schedule, pushing an audience’s buttons with dull factory precision. It’s the very definition of an average movie, one that will have exactly the same impact on you if you see it as it would if you didn’t see it.
C (1 hr., 37 min.; )