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Reckoning

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IN THE LAND OF WOMEN

SYNOPSIS:
When Carter Webb (Adam Brody) is dumped by Sophia (Elena Anaya) in a coffee shop, the heartbroken Carter escapes Los Angeles, heading to suburban Michigan to care for his ailing and eccentric grandmother (Olympia Dukakis). Here, Carter stumbles into the lives of the family living opposite; Sarah Hardwicke (Meg Ryan), her husband (Clark Gregg) and their two daughters: Paige (Makenzie Vega), a precocious 11 year-old and her older sister Lucy (Kristen Stewart), an angst-ridden teenager. Drawn into their vortex, Carter is buffeted by this land of women.

Review by 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.

'Women have always been drawn to you,' JoBeth Williams' Agnes tells her son Carter (Adam Brody), as she tries to console him after the lovely Sofia (Elena Anaya) has broken his heart. When Carter packs his laptop and heads for Grandma's (Olympia Dukakis) house, he isn't expecting to become the confidant of the two strong women who live in the picturesque, flower-covered house opposite. Firstly, he begins to walk Bozo the dog with Meg Ryan's Sarah, a self-confessed 'last-word freak', who is going through crises of her own - with her health, in her marriage and with her teenage daughter Lucy (Kristen Stewart), who has resented her for most of her life. Sarah opens up her heart to Carter on their walks, but it is in torrential rain that she confides her fears about her mortality. Their kiss is meaningful to both of them - for different reasons. Next it is Lucy who makes use of Carter's willingness to listen to her concerns, involving him in her stymied love life, family problems and issues with her mother.

Immediately likeable as Carter, Adam Brody is the pivot around which the women swarm. There's a nice chemistry between Brody and Ryan, dispelling the age difference, and I enjoyed Makenzie Vega's 10 year old (but going-on 30) Paige Hardwicke, who plays Ryan's astute, bossy younger daughter who is far more worldly than her mother and older sister combined. Dukakis' demented Phyllis is overwritten and while Dukakis keeps her performance straight, it feels as though Kasdan has written it for laughs. Emotionally, the film finds its heart - between mother and daughter, and Carter manages to work out the complexities of his heart. It's engaging and mostly enjoyable, but I couldn't help but wishing for a little more.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Jon Kasdan attempts a complicated screenplay of relationships, originating from the idea that men who really listen will be attractive to women on several levels. A valid premise, but it needs to be in the service of a strong story, otherwise it is just too thin to sustain a movie. Kasdan must have discovered this as he wrote, because other elements are thrown in, as if mixing a soup in a blender, looking for a richer result.

For a start, Carter lives on writing soft porn movie scripts, but to make this palatable, he nurtures a heartfelt story from his high school days. In Michigan's leafy suburb with his grandma, he is quickly subsumed into a dysfunctional family - or at least by its three women: mother Sarah (Meg Ryan) and her two daughters, an 11 year old and a teenager on the brink of sexual awakening. Two extra elements are thrown into the mix, which I won't reveal, but they are both trite old devices.

Our sympathies are flying left, right and centre as the story of these characters hinges on their lack of anyone to listen. The daughter has hated her mum for yonks, her mum has hated herself for the same amount of time, grandma hates everyone and Carter becomes a lightning rod for all their outpourings, problems and anxieties. The performances are acceptable if mannered, and the direction lacks energy.

The whole thing ends up playing like a therapy session whose resolution is quite underwhelming, after a series of heart-tugging moments. It's a beginner's work, filled with clichés and the stuff of afternoon tv episodes, lacking originality and lacking verity. And besides, I distrust any film in which people stand and argue and/or kiss in pelting rain.



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 1
Mixed: 1

IN THE LAND OF WOMEN (M)
(US, 2007)

CAST: Meg Ryan, Adam Brody, Olympia Dukakis, Kristen Stewart, JoBeth Williams,

PRODUCER: Steve Golin, David Kanter

DIRECTOR: Jon Kasdan

SCRIPT: Jon Kasdan

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Paul Cameron

EDITOR: Carol Littleton

MUSIC: Stephen Trask

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Sandy Cochrane

RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hoyts

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 26, 2007







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