Aspiring writer Carter Webb (Adam Brody, of television’s The O.C.) flees L.A. for his grandmother’s house in suburban Michigan in Jonathan Kasdan’s directorial debut In the Land of Women. Carter plans to (1) recover from being dumped by his movie-star girlfriend, (2) write the novel he’s been waiting on for years, and (3) take care of his possibly-demented grandmother Phyllis (Olympia Dukakis). It’s unclear how much time he’s allotted to complete these tasks – maybe, say, a month? I wish I could be that efficient. But on this goofy premise, Kasdan (son of Lawrence Kasdan of Big Chill fame) builds an engaging, gentle-humored film.
The world of the movie – hushed suburban streets, copious foliage, affluent homes, hidden woodland streams, and graceful females – is lush and beautiful, and discreetly punctuated by the individual emotional crises of its characters. Sarah (Meg Ryan), a housewife and mother who lives across the street from Phyllis, has just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Her teenage daughter Lucy (Kristen Stewart) faces the dawning of new sexual experience with secret terror. Both find relief in friendship and self-disclosure. The story follows the fumbling rhythms of Carter’s burgeoning relationships with mother and daughter point by point, beginning with Sarah’s first faux pas - awkward overtures, which being completely welcome aren’t really awkward at all.
Mother and daughter dominate the film. Carter’s supposed heartbreak, his writing travails, and his testy grandmother are margin notes. Grandma Phyllis greets Carter at the door with a hostile glare. She believes she’s on the brink of death, is frequently disoriented, to comic effect, and at one point walks around in just a sweater. Clearly she can take care of herself. Meg Ryan, on the other hand, sobbing in the rain on the eve of her surgery – demands our attention. She really does. Kasdan’s characters are sensitive people living well-ordered lives. They ask basic questions about relationships, love, and sex, and offer each other simple, heartfelt answers.
Sarah Bardin writes and lives in New York City.