If first-time director Jon Kasdan (son of Lawrence, brother to Jake) had something more thematically devastating in mind when he wrote "In the Land of Women," you'd never know it from the final product.
Dumped by his model girlfriend, L.A. softcore porn screenwriter Carter (Adam Brody, "The O.C.") desires a change of pace. After traveling to Michigan to take care of his grandmother (Olympia Dukakis), Carter becomes intrigued with his neighbor Sarah (Meg Ryan), a soft-spoken woman beginning her battle with breast cancer. As the two find a connection, Sarah's teenage daughter Lucy (Kristin Stewart) finds herself attracted to Carter's attention as well, confusing the young man and complicating his relationships with the many women in his life.
At its best, "Women" patiently examines the fierce yearnings of the heart and how stunted communication seems to block our best intentions. Kasdan is looking to dramatize a series of relationships that come alive through personal expression, and those fleeting moments of confession and pining are gifts the writer side of Kasdan shares with the rest of his family.
"Women" means well, and I'd be lying if I said it didn't occasionally touch me. The tentative friendship between Carter and Sarah captures a soft romantic essence and calm sexual neutrality that the picture seems in short supply of. When the relationship takes a turn toward desire, Kasdan doesn't bungle the tonal switch, instead deepening Sarah's struggle of conscience (the exhilaration of newfound attraction vs. the reality of sickness) and Carter's primal feminine gravitational pull. If only the picture shared more moments between them.
Unfortunately, "Women" ends up with a glossy production polish reminiscent of a CW pilot that doesn't have a prayer to make it to series. Outside of the few pillars of emotional truth, the rest of the picture is dogged by lame stabs at comedy, forced turns of drama, and too many characters for Kasdan to tend to. Sarah's cheating spouse is the most obvious casualty of Kasdan's focus issues. Initially presented as one of Sarah's catalysts for her interest in Carter's attention, the character is all but forgotten by the end of the film. Troubling, when you consider how much of the story included his participation.
I also wasn't thrilled with Kasdan's reliance on Brody's third-grade smart aleck routine to save him from actual scripted moments of levity. Brody needs a lot more discipline in his acting to ever be considered a leading man; his comfort on camera is appealing, but there's no depth behind the bowling alley lounge retorts and smirks, a quality exacerbated when put onscreen with more talented co-stars.
Perhaps it's mean-spirited to bring up certain cosmetic changes Meg Ryan has recently undergone to reverse the aging process. Really, it's none of my business. However, when said surgery blocks important dramatic cues, how can I keep quiet? Ryan gives one of her best performances as Sarah; a withdrawn suburban ice queen only now, in the face of death, realizing the toxicity of her distance. There's a lot of pain bubbling under the surface of the character, but no way out. Ryan longs and tears, but it's hard to see that expressed on her face. I'm possibly overstepping a line suggesting the botox-fueled eradication of Ryan's theatrical faculties, but you see the film and tell me. Am I wrong to say that Ryan has robbed herself of the actor's lone best friend, expression?
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