Thursday, January 17, 2008

'In the Land of Women' Reviews

Please keep in mind that reviews can contain spoilers, lots of spoilers, and that negative reviews can be interesting to read.
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Dustin Putman: Rating 3/4
"In the Land of Women" walks a prickly path that, with more than a couple wrong turns, could have easily self-destructed in a haze of well-meaning sap. As written and directed by Jonathan Kasdan (son of Lawrence, making his respective filmmaking debut), it dodges this threat by concentrating on character nuances and relationships over showy plot devices and curt climaxes. There are times when the flourishes of his pen get too big for his page —the dialogue, for one, imperfectly tends toward speeches and monologues over a shorter, more natural back-and-forth —but this surefire sign of a first-timer is miniscule in comparison to all he gets right.

The trailers and television ads for "In the Land of Women" have misleadingly set the film up as something of a love story geared toward teenage girls. It isn't, at least not in the conventional sense. More similar to 2004's "Garden State" or a really good emo-fueled episode of "Grey's Anatomy" (this is not meant to be a backhanded criticism), the movie is more concerned with dysfunctional lives out of balance and one man's journey toward figuring out who he is than it is about gushy romance. The point of the story never seems to be hinging upon who ends up with who at the end, and that is a refreshing change of pace from the studio norm.

"In the Land of Women" is a touching coming-of-age drama as experienced through the eyes of three people from varying generations. Carter's dreams of being a writer —a respectable one that doesn't service gratuitous sex scenes, that is —have stalled in the convening years between teenagehood and his twenties, and the loss of the one woman he thought he loved only acts to expose the things he has failed to accomplish.

Kristen Stewart (2007's "The Messengers"), a child actor coming of age herself, has grown up into a beautiful and versatile actress in her own right. She is perfectly cast as Lucy, unaffected and true.

"In the Land of Women" is astutely made up of a series of small events rather than big ones. Although Sarah has cancer and another key character passes away before the end, the film consistently avoids going the route of melodramatic clichés. Writer-director Jonathan Kasdan treats his characters with the delicacy and wisdom of a man who intimately knows and cares about them through and through. If he tends toward a few too many soul-bearing heart-to-hearts, at least he carries them off with an unsentimental tone, and if the film should elicit tears from the viewer, let it be known that they come from an authentic place rather by way of cloying manipulation. The picture concludes on a nice note that keeps things slightly open-ended, with the characters still in the process of healing. They will be all right. "In the Land of Women" is a poignant study in empathy and, ultimately, rebirth.

•• FilmThreat, Stina Chyn: Kristen Stewart who lights up the screen with her unforced performance as an awkward and sensitive teenager going through adolescent dilemmas.

Kasdan must have had Adam Brody in mind when conceiving and writing “In the Land of Women.” Were it not for Brody’s impeccable line delivery and charming demeanor, the film would be unpleasant to watch primarily because of alternating scenes of deadpan hilarity and emotionally draining character backstory.

Thinking charitably about the film, I could imagine it as a tribute to all the women that have influenced and inspired the director. A more critical consideration, however, would suggest that Kasdan had flipped through an issue of a woman’s magazine and pulled out excerpts of articles and “Dear Answer Lady” columns on how to deal with a life-threatening illness, a brooding teenage daughter, and a husband that is discreetly have an affair.

“In the Land of Women” isn’t a bad film per se—it’s just an empty film. The characters are representatives of narrative themes and consumer goods. When searching for your self, trying to mend a broken heart, or going for a jog, remember to be a good listener and bring your I-Pod.

••, Carrie Rickey: Rating 3/4
This fresh, funny and perceptive movie marks the accomplished feature debut of Jon Kasdan. But it will be remembered as the one in which Brody, reedy and raffish lead of television's The O.C., proved himself a star of big-screen magnitude.

Kasdan (the younger son of The Big Chill creator Lawrence) likes all of his characters. He understands that honorable people can behave as inconsistently as dishonorable ones.

Though Kasdan's film lacks a distinctive visual style, he elicits three terrific performances. With the exception of Dukakis' Phyllis, who carries on like she's auditioning for the part of crustiest patient at the sitcom nursing home, the performances are freewheeling and wonderfully drawn. Ryan and Stewart (the daughter in Panic Room) crackle with mother/daughter electricity.

•• WaffleMovies: Rating 3/4
In the Land of Women is one of those talking-about-their-feelings movies, but one the audience can connect with due to the strong dialogue and even stronger acting. Brody seems to be emerging as a future star and all around good actor by taking a role where he shuns his familiar wise guy character to show us some real pain, humor and longing. After this performance, he might start to steal all of Zach Braff’s troubled-twentysomething-in-angst roles.

One of the biggest and best surprises is the re-emergence of Meg Ryan. She is fantastic as the mother reassessing life and her own possible mortality. She’s a woman wounded by the actions of others, pained by the loss of a relationship with her daughter and also longing for one person she can bare her troubled soul to, and never makes it seem too cute. Ryan is marvelous and more real than you have ever seen each step of the way. Even Stewart shows she is developing into a strong young actress by playing a teenager who doesn’t chew up the scenery unnecessarily, even when her story might not be the strongest.

In the Land of Women does feel likes it drags at times, especially since it is not a movie driven by story or plot, but one that envelopes you as you learn more and more about these characters, their trials and tribulations. Writer/director Jon Kasdan never goes for the melodramatic, only that which feels real and impacts the audience enough to feel like they want to stick around and find out what will happen to these characters. He provides dialogue that keeps the mood lighthearted when needed, but delivers the dramatic, heartbreaking moments you expect from this type of movie.

In the Land of Women is a solid movie for those who want to feel.

•• , Lisa Kennedy: As Lucy, Kristen Stewart provides Carter a fine counterpart in self-awareness. A painter, she's acutely observant. But she's young enough to be angry at her mother for, well, nearly everything.

•• UrbanCinefile, Louise Keller: I would love to see the European film version of this coming of age story in which the subtleties of the characters and situations are fully realised. It's not that In the Land of Women is a bad film - far from it - I enjoyed many aspects of the storytelling and characters, but in the hands of writer director Jon Kasdan, it lacks that down to earth, gritty true to life feeling, that makes you believe this could really be happening. Told from the point of view of a love-sick 26 year old writer who decides to clear his head by staying with his eccentric, demented grandmother, the film explores his emotional state as he goes from needy to being needed by strangers in his new neighbourhood.

•• Big picture big sound, Joe Lozito: Rating 2/4
If you're going to spend time in a land of women, you can't ask for much better than Olympia Dukakis, JoBeth Williams and Meg Ryan. Throw in young Kristen Stewart and this sounds like a land worth visiting. Unfortunately, "In the Land of Women", writer-director Jonathan Kasdan's achingly sincere study of a writer who leaves Los Angeles to care for his ailing grandmother, never gives its talented cast - led by Adam Brody from "The O.C." - a chance to flex its considerable muscles.

•• Murphy's Movie Reviews, Ted Murphy: Rating C:
The script is problematic. Much of it feels half-formed; there are some potentially interesting ideas but they are not really developed well. The audience is supposed to take certain things on face value -- and there are many missed opportunities, particularly in the third act. (I won't give away plot points, but there was certainly a place for JoBeth Williams' character to reappear -- even if only in a phone conversation.)

Brody does a decent job anchoring the movie. There may be traces of his television persona (it may be a while before he escapes that character). In a couple of highly emotional scenes, though, I felt the actor struggling. Stewart, whom viewers may recall as Jodie Foster's daughter in PANIC ROOM has developed into a fine performer. She captures the varying moods of a teenager with issues about her mother and perhaps a more experienced writer-director might have plumbed those even deeper.

IN THE LAND OF WOMEN is a flawed piece, but young Mr. Kasdan shows promise (particularly in his handling of the actors).

•• Entertainment Spectrum, Jolene Mendez: Rating 3,5/4
This movie was heartfelt and the acting was superb.

•• Richard Roeper : Rating B-
To the credit of writer-director Jonathan Kasdan (son of Lawrence Kasdan of "The Big Chill," "Body Heat," "Grand Canyon" et al.), there's not a moment when the movie deteriorates into some leering romp about a mother-daughter-Carter love triangle. Lip-locking lapses aside, Carter's relationships with Sarah and with Lucy are rooted in the sharing of ideas and dreams and disappointments and fears.

Kasdan knows how to sprinkle in the comedy when the drama gets too heavy. When Carter accompanies Lucy to a high school party so she can make her jock ex-boyfriend jealous, the result is a conscious tip of the hat to all those John Hughes movies that had big climactic scenes at parties just like this one. Moments like this are welcomed because at least one main character in this movie is very sick and might not make it, and there will be many scenes when people hug through tears.

At times the film seems almost too carefully crafted and audience-friendly, with perhaps one too many neatly wrapped resolutions. Carter's coda in particular feels tacked on. Still, we share Kasdan's affection for these characters. One can understand how Carter becomes enamored with the women across the street, and why they're receptive to him.

•• FilmBlather, Eugene Novikov: Rating B
Kasdan’s is the sort of perfectly acceptable, perfectly unremarkable screenplay that would probably have languished in the “unproduced” heap had it not borne the Kasdan name. It displays a real flair for charmingly witty dialogue, an unfortunate tendency to lean on TV-movie tropes (things do get a little too complicated, in a Days of Our Lives way, by the third act), and a beginner’s uncertainty with comic set pieces (a would-be showstopper involving a conversation between Carter and his boss about their latest skinflick with grandma on the other line bombs). Appealing performances from Brody, Meg Ryan and Kristen Stewart are enormously helpful in giving the film what ultimately gets it across the finish line: an endearing, shaggy-dog likability. An actor with more range may have made Carter a more complete persona, but Brody serves to keep the film from running away from Kasdan. Carter spends much of the film sulking, and Brody’s accomplishment here is making this truly seem like just a bad few weeks in the life of a decent guy who is indeed gonna be alright.

•• Reelviews, James Berardinelli: Rating 3/4
In the Land of Women is enjoyable for a movie in which pretty much nothing happens. The things that occur during the course of Jonathan (son of Lawrence) Kasdan's debut feature are all subtle and character-based. This is the sort of motion picture one might assume was made in France if everyone wasn't speaking perfect English and setting was somewhere more exotic than Michigan. In the Land of Women is comprised of a number of nice little scenes that, while they don't combine to form something momentous, are each effective in their own low-key manner.

Kristen Stewart, one of the few good things in the otherwise unwatchable The Messengers, shows a lot of energy and enthusiasm. She reminds us how conflicted teenagers are about everything, especially parents and members of the opposite sex, and how they may be more insightful about some things than adults suspect.

Jonathan Kasdan becomes the fourth member of the talented family to have a movie to his name, joining father Lawrence, brother Jake, and uncle Mark. With In the Land of Women, Kasdan has elected to start out small. By not overreaching, he has produced an effective character-based drama that should have strong appeal to women. The movie is being used as counterprogramming to thrillers and horror movies, and should find its niche (if not in theaters then on DVD). It's the kind of production that's pleasant to watch because it allows viewers to spend some time with believable characters who face "regular" problems, but do so without becoming boring or overly familiar. In the Land of Women is a reasonable choice if you're looking for something less frenetic than the usual multiplex fare.

•• Beliefnet, JMiller: If you’ve see the ads with vulnerable cutie Adam Brody from “The O.C.” kissing willowy cutie Kristen Stewart (the kid in Panic Room and growing up very nicely), you probably think it must be a romantic comedy. That’s what they want you to think because it will sell tickets.

Get that idea out of your mind and you might find a way to the real but uncertain pleasures of this intriguing first effort from writer-director Jonathan Kasden (son of writer-director Lawrence and brother of writer-director Jake, whose own first movie is also coming out this month).

Like its main character, the film is a little lost but filled with promise, with some lovely moments, some telling thoughts about the power of listening.

So much promise, in fact, that it manages to overcome the considerable challenge of keeping our affection despite two well-established movie-killers — the precocious child and the dying grandmother who’s gone a little gaga.

•• Variety, Justin Chang: A strong cast struggles valiantly to rise above Lifetime material in “In the Land of Women,” an appealingly scruffy if overly programmatic drama. Writer-director Jonathan Kasdan’s tale about a young man emergence from his relational cocoon rests squarely on the shoulders of its trio of talented lead actors, whose names should draw a limited audience to the Warner Independent Pictures feature.

Played by “The OC’s” Adam Brody in his patented so-dorky-he’s-cool fashion, 26-year-old aspiring writer Carter Webb has just been dumped by his supermodel g.f. Sophia (Elena Anaya). Leaving L.A., Carter moves in with his half-deranged grandmother (Olympia Dukakis) in suburban Michigan, where he becomes entangled with beautiful housewife Sarah Hardwicke (Meg Ryan, radiating her trademark charm in a much lower key) and her adolescent daughter Lucy (Kristen Stewart). Pic doesn’t provide a clear sense of where it’s headed early on, which is why the eventual developments can’t help but feel derivative. Dialogue alternates between insightful and twee, yet Kasdan elicits strong performances all around.