Film Reviews: Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Carterís Malaise

A first-time filmmaker canít spin a good story In the Land of Women.


I have a hard time looking at Meg Ryan right now. There are a few shots in her latest film, In the Land of Women, where she looks recognizably like the same actress who starred in Sleepless in Seattle. The rest of the time, however, her face looks like one of those African masks, and itís more than just a distraction. It hurts her performance. As a suburban mom who has breast cancer, her characterís supposed to be keeping her fear bottled up while giving off the illusion that she has everything under control, but Ryan canít pull this off because her face is now immobilized from surgery or Botox or whatever sheís had done. My worthless prediction: Soon actors wonít need this sort of work anymore, because technology now allows filmmakers to digitally erase wrinkles and blemishes from a personís face. Hooray for that, but seeing the star of When Harry Met Sally ... reduced to the expressiveness of a department-store mannequin makes me feel older and more depressed than the sight of her aging naturally would have.

The main character here is Carter Webb (Adam Brody), a struggling Hollywood writer whoís just been dumped by his famous-actress girlfriend (Elena Anaya). Needing a change of scenery, he heads to Michigan to look in on his hypochondriac grandmother (Olympia Dukakis). While heís there, he gets entangled with the family across the street, where teenage daughter Lucy (Kristen Stewart) is barely on speaking terms with her mom Sarah (Ryan) despite the latterís health scare. With Dad (Clark Gregg) unable to help much because heís busy seeing his mistress, Carter steps uneasily into the void after Sarah effectively pushes Lucy at him.

This is the filmmaking debut of Jonathan Kasdan, son of Lawrence (Body Heat, The Big Chill) and brother of Jake (Zero Effect, the upcoming The TV Set). Sad to say, the youngest Kasdanís direction is as well-manicured as the lawns in the neighborhood where the film takes place, and it wrings the juice right out of this drama. Sarah and Lucyís reconciliation is flat when it should be the big climax of the picture, and weíre sorely lacking a scene in which either mom or daughter calls out dad on his infidelity. Maybe a scene like that would have coaxed Stewart out of her disaffected shell ó sheís capable of better than this. Meanwhile, Brody has been funny and charming in the past playing earnestly dorky guys, but he canít bring any charisma to Carter, whoís so insipidly self-absorbed that his inappropriate flirtations with both Sarah and Lucy donít ring any alarm bells. (Though they are a tad icky.) If all this isnít enough to deal with, Kasdan gives Lucy a younger sister (Makenzie Vega) who serves no purpose in the movie other than to be cutesily precocious.

In the Land of Women ó my God! That titleís going to scare so many guys away from the theater. Still, everyone should be scared away by the callow and bland drama on display. To watch it is to feel the sensation of sinking slowly and inevitably into a giant vat of plain-flavored yogurt.

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