Jon Kasdan (son of filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan) makes a most auspicious directorial debut with "In the Land of Women," an utterly charming and winning indie comedy/drama marked by interesting characters, complex relationships and delightful performances by a first-rate cast.
When his fashion-model/actress girlfriend dumps him without warning, a "soft-erotica" writer by the name of Carter Webb leaves his home in L.A. to spend time with his eccentric grandmother in suburban Michigan. A 26-year old who hasn`t been able to grab a hold of anything meaningful in his life thus far, Carter finds his world becoming even more complicated when he makes the acquaintance of a mother and daughter who live across the street from where he`s staying.
The beauty of Kasdan's screenplay is that we never know where the story is going to take us at any given moment. Moreover, the characters interact with one another in ways that are both believable and surprising, and no one is made out to be either a hero or a villain, a sinner or a saint. Carter is coping with the pain of a failed romantic relationship, while the two women contend with marital difficulties, suburban angst, adolescent rebellion and a life-threatening illness. Yet, for all the potential sturm und drang of the material, "In the Land of Women" maintains a light-hearted, lyrical tone throughout, thanks to witty dialogue and a full-hearted appreciation for the subtle little ironies and eccentricities of life.
The performances could not be improved upon. Adam Brody makes Carter into a sympathetically vulnerable figure who, at the same time, can display a surprising amount of strength and intestinal fortitude when the situation calls for it. Makenzie Vega is sweet and charming as the literal girl-next-door who is quick to criticize her mother even though she doesn't know the woman quite as well as she thinks she does. But it is Meg Ryan as Sarah Hardwicke, the full-time housewife and mother, who truly excels in her role, turning a potentially two-dimensional character into a multi-faceted woman of surprising depth and emotion. With admirable restraint and understatement, Ryan conveys all the unspoken thoughts and feelings of a woman who is aware of the compromises she has made in life but who is far more wise and complex about the ways of the world than either her daughter or her philandering husband are willing to give her credit for. Finally, Olympia Dukakis seems to be having the time of her life playing an attention-seeking, doddering old woman who may not be quite as out of it as she wants others to believe she is.
As director, Kasdan takes full advantage of the bucolic Michigan setting (though it is remarkably lush and green for October), as Carter and Sarah take long, leisurely strolls around the neighborhood, getting to know one another and establishing a lasting relationship.
Like them, the movie is not afraid to take its time laying out its storyline and revealing the hearts of its characters. The result is an offbeat and deeply satisfying film that bodes well for the future career of its neophyte director.