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In the Land of Women

Wistful and uneven, Jonathan Kasdan's In the Land of Women is like Garden State by way of a John Hughes movie--but less engaging than either.


Despite what the trailer might have you believe, In the Land of Women isn't exactly a sweet, sigh-inducing romance. Yes, main character Carter Webb (Adam Brody)--a slightly snarky screenwriter who makes his living writing soft-core porn--leaves Hollywood for Michigan to get over a hard break-up by taking care of his aging, tart-tongued grandmother (Olympia Dukakis). And yes, he subsequently ends up getting entangled with angsty blond teenager Lucy Hardwicke (Kristen Stewart) and her lonely mom, Sarah (Meg Ryan). But the trio's tenuous relationships are complicated by confusion, resentment, illness, and misunderstanding, all of which add up to a situation that's hardly straightforward--and, frankly, not all that romantic, either.


Brody is no stranger to playing sarcastic, pop culture-savvy Southern Californians: After four seasons on The O.C. as Seth Cohen, he's got the type down pat. As Carter, he balances wry quips with a nice dose of empathy--you can tell that he truly cares about both Lucy and Sarah (not to mention his grandma, as crusty as she is). But to be honest, it's a little hard to see why. Stewart plays Lucy with a shy sullenness that's not very endearing--she gets a little more animated toward the end, but it's too little, too late--and Ryan's trademark perkiness has worn thin. She gives Sarah's dramatic scenes her best shot, but the character's confusion and pain don't seem at home on her unnaturally tight face. Dukakis gets in a few zingers as Grandma Phyllis, but the character is essentially one-note--as is Lucy's sister Paige (Makenzie Vega), who swiftly goes from ''cutely precocious'' to ''awkward yapping.''


In many ways, Paige seems like a character lifted out of the John Hughes playbook, which isn't that surprising, given Carter's fascination with the '80s director's oeuvre--and the movie's Hughes-ian high school subplot. Unfortunately, the ''classic'' high school movie scenes (the party Lucy takes Carter to, their movie outing at the mall, her dawning realization at the end, etc.), while fun for folks who grew up watching the movies they're obviously inspired by, have a light tone that's jarring compared to the rest of the film's drama. When it comes down to it, Carter--who's looking for a reason to stop drifting through life--has a lot more in common with Garden State's Andrew Largeman than Hughes heroes like Ferris Bueller and John Bender. Trying to squeeze him into a teen-centric story, rather than focusing on helping him grow up, doesn't do him--or the movie--any favors.

Bottom Line rated this film 2 stars.