April 26, 2007

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In the Land of Women (PG-13)
Adam Brody, having lost The O.C., decides to look for himself, finding himself exactly where we’d expect him to be, In the Land of Women, a half-baked over-wrought copy-of-a-copy of every bad coming-of-age movie to ever hum “Mrs. Robinson.”

“Shut up, Adam Brody,” you think every time he lets out some over-articulated snarkism in the form of a moldy pop culture reference. Turns out the Seth Cohen type, without Josh Schwartz to write him and plop him into a tale of spectacular camp, is just a whiner. A whiner with lovely sensitive-boy hair, but a whiner nonetheless.

Carter Webb (Brody) makes his living writing porn but what he really wants to do is write whiny John Hughes-ish tales of his teen years at a too-hip L.A. prep school. After his supermodel/actress girlfriend Sofia (Elena Anaya) dumps him, Carter decides to go east to the Midwest to tend to his grandmother Phyllis (Olympia Dukakis), who is convinced she’s near death.

Between cleaning his grandmother’s house, making her dinner and reminding her to wear pants, Carter meets her neighbors. First he meets and strikes up an instant kinship with Sarah (a freakily puffy-lipped Meg Ryan), a housewife dissatisfied with an existence that’s more stuff than substance. She’s annoyed at the state of her marriage (cheating husband) and not sure that her choice — for comfort over passion — has been a good one. She’s also worried about a troublesome lump she recently found in her breast.

AND she’s worried about the crappy relationship she has with Lucy (Kristin Stewart), the oldest of her two daughters. Though Sarah has some sort of strange attraction to Carter, she also inappropriately pushes her teenage daughter into asking the 26-year-old to a movie. Because Carter is such a whiny sad sack that he’ll take any form of attention, both Sarah and Lucy pour their hearts out to him, putting Carter at the center of a strange emotional-turmoil triangle that in turn gets him to think about his own life and what he wants to do with it.

So much do I not care about the angst of a twenty-something porn writer that I could almost be tricked at times into caring about the angst of Sarah and Lucy. Stewart and the kids who populate her social circle are certainly Hollywood but they’re not too shiny — they’re not, for example, the cast of One Tree Hill. There is something vaguely teenagery about them and this ups the believability of the actors even if not a single thing they say sounds reminiscent of a single teenager I’ve ever met, either as a teenager or since. Or, to be fair, not most of what they say — Stewart’s character speaks with a kind of confused mumbliness that feels a little more genuine than the Valley-girl-meets-sociology-professor speech pattern that we normally hear from teenage actresses.

Meg Ryan’s character is not quite so street and yet she has the meatier story line. She gets exactly one good scene where she expresses the shocked horror and deep feeling of unfairness at an impending mastectomy. There’s something about her delivery here that made me want to see more of that part of her story.

The rest is pure, not-good-enough-for-The-C.W. melodrama that feels cheaply crafted and ultimately pointless. In the Land of Women feels too much like every other movie where a young man tries to find himself and grows a bit of character thanks to quirky women. There is a roughness (as in “rough draft”) to the story flow and to the dialogue that strongly suggests a second or third pass by a script doctor and editor would have greatly improved this movie. And, for a movie called In The Land of Women, more needed to be done to make the female characters more than just foils for such a jelly-spined male lead.

Where have you gone, Julie Cooper? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you. D+

Rated PG-13 for sexual content, thematic elements and language. Written and directed by Jon Kasdan, In the Land of Women is an hour and 37 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Warner Bros.