A Hard Look at Land of Women
A Chick Flick, Sure: But Far More Than That

The following commentary is more in-depth than our usual reviews. If you prefer not to know too much about a film before seeing it, you might consider reading this article as a follow-up to the screening.

In the Land of Women is admittedly a chick flick. However, it is not some bit of tongue-in-cheek fluff in the vein of Second Wives Club or How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days or Failure to Launch. No, this film worthy of an audience beyond its niche—women. But the movie’s title will undoubtedly cause some very worthy and woman-loving men to encourage their wives, daughters, and girlfriends to do a ladies night, thereby missing an opportunity to share a relationship-building experience with the females in their lives.

There is so much to talk about when this movie is over; it irritated me to drive home alone, as I do when I “work” a movie, and try to explain everything I was feeling to my two self-absorbed cats! One admonition of caution—if your significant man’s idea of a relationship is “We don’t need to talk because we understand each other,” do not drag him to this movie. He will either be asleep in the first ten minutes or never allow you to choose the movie on date night again, even if the title has blood, or death, or kill in it!

Meg Ryan as Sarah in In The Land of WomenHere’s the story: Carter Webb (absolutely played to perfection by Adam Brody) has a problem. He loves to be in love and thus throws himself into his relationships with women as if each will be the last relationship of his life. When his girlfriend Sophia blindsides him by breaking up with him, he is once again sent into a tailspin of loss and self-doubt and decides that he needs to figure out why he cannot maintain a permanent relationship with any woman. It just so happens that his mother has become concerned about his grandmother who lives alone in Wisconsin and is sure she is dying. Carter convinces his mom that it would be best for him and grandma if he flies out to Wisconsin to assess the situation and offer his help. As a side benefit, it will get him away from Los Angeles and his vocation of screenwriting soft-porn movies and perhaps free his mind to write the great American novel.

In Wisconsin, Carter enters Estrogen Land. He quickly realizes that Grandma Archer is quite the dingbat (although amazingly astute with her understanding of life). Right across the street are the three Hardwicke females, mom Sarah, teenager Lucy, and little sister Paige, with enough issues and crises to overwhelm a hotline. The rest of the movie involves Carter’s experiences as he builds relationships (friendships—watch your mind!) with each of these women. The whole process is touching, exasperating, infuriating, hilarious, spiritual, and soulful—just like life’s relationships.

I personally love movies that don’t make you fish for the purpose of their existence. Before I had even read the press notes, it was very apparent that screenwriter and director Jonathan Kasdan loves women and had written very autobiographically. He wrote his heart into the screenplay and then directed it to life, celebrating women at every major stage of growth: Paige, the precocious eleven-year-old, still an innocent but poised on the brink of being whisked into puberty; Lucy, the queen of teens, full of angst, awkwardness, sexual tension, and alienation (especially from mom); Sophia, Carter’s ex-girlfriend, attempting to find her place; Sarah, wife and mother—40-something, trying to discover where she lost her identity, the love of her husband, her health, and the respect of her oldest child; and Grandma Archer, a woman at the end of her life who knows it, is at peace with it, and just wants everyone else to accept it.

As a first time director, Kasdan scores an immediate hit with his ensemble. No one plays angst like Meg Ryan. I cannot think of any female currently acting who can play and elicit such a range of emotions effectively and believably as Ryan does as Sarah. Olympia Dukakis is side-splittingly droll as Grandma Archer, but she is not the comic foil. She is the true embodiment of presence and dominates (not in a bad way) her limited scenes. Kristen Stewart and Makenzie Vega are young actors, but skilled beyond their years in bringing passion and realism to their roles as Lucy and Paige. Even JoBeth Williams, who plays Carter’s self-absorbed mother and is on screen a very short time, plays her part perfectly. All of Kasdan’s female characters are one hundred percent believable and I found myself understanding and identifying with every one of them (except Grandma Archer, because I’m not old enough yet!).

Since this is Kasdan’s first time out of the directing chute, I can forgive him for some things he still needs to learn. The story could have been tightened up a little; there were places where the editing could have been cleaner and the storyline would not have been affected by the absence of a few feet of film left on the floor. Kasdan also overplays the soulful-eyed close-up to the point where I was ready to scream, “Enough already, I understand that these people are all angst-ridden on at least one level!” Carter’s screen-filled looks of “What on earth just happened there?” also got to be a little off-putting.

What’s there for the men, you ask? Adam Brody. Okay… everybody is going to like and appreciate Carter Webb. He is an everyman who contains relational elements of men and women, who learns to observe, listen, and begin to understand why he loves women so much and why they are so important in his life. Conversely, the women touched by Carter gain a deeper understanding of themselves by coming to experience and understand him. Adam Brody is brilliant in this role.

It seems rare lately that I have been able to find any true spiritual content in the films I have reviewed. In the Land of Women breaks that trend, but not in an overt manner. In fact, neither faith nor religion are ever mentioned or even hinted at in the movie; but as a Christian, I can draw an honest correlation because of the primary subject—relationships. I believe that people were created to be relational. It is how we survive. It is how we live. Whether with God, people, pets, ourselves, or all of these, relationships are what we spend the most time seeking. When our relationships are not whole, we are not all we are meant to be.

We spend all of our lives doing what the people in this movie are doing—trying to justify and understand who we are in relation to everyone and everything around us. We often realize that at some point there has been a failure… mainly to communicate. We don’t study each other like these characters do. We don’t try to figure out what makes the other person tick. We are so lost in “it’s all about me” that we are constantly trying to manufacture relationships that meet our own needs, forgetting that there is a another person across from us or next to us trying to do the same thing.

So why do we find it disappointing—so destructive and hurtful—when everything disintegrates, peace does not flow like a river, and joy is so transparently false that even the most free-spirited optimist views us with a jaundiced eye? The underlying answer: relationships take work and the most honest part of us views work as a four-letter word we avoid if it does not fatten our bank accounts. The best thing In the Land of Women can do is to get the dialogue going—not about how people’s lives intersect coincidentally, as in Crash or other Altmanesque films, but how there seems to be a purpose and a plan behind the fact that we need each other.

In the Land of Women is rated PG-13 “for sexual content, thematic elements and language.” Truthfully, parents will not need to worry about the rating because this movie is definitely not targeted at anyone under 25. To fully appreciate the relationship theme, the viewer must have lived long enough to have experienced life on an adult level. Don’t challenge the relationship with your teens by trying to make them see this. Go with girlfriends or your favorite Carter Webb-type guy!

Courtesy of a local publicist, Kathy attended a press screening of In the Land of Women.