Carter, a scruffy L.A. writer of soft-core porn, harbors literary dreams. He is rudely awakened when his actress/model girlfriend kicks him to the curb and he finds himself without home or direction. Where do you go when you outgrow the home you grew up in?
Rebuffed in intimacy, he looks to lick his wounds in isolation. He flees to Detroit to care for his geriatric grandma. There, no one knows he's a loser.
And there, in the manicured suburbs, he encounters women struggling with their own issues. They bring him out of himself.
There's his septuagenerian grandma, Phyllis (Olympia Dukakis), waiting for Death to knock. There's the fortyish Sarah Hardwicke (Meg Ryan), reaching out to a daughter who shrinks away. And then there's Sarah's daughter, Lucy (Kristen Stewart) who wants to be anywhere but here.
Taking care of Phyllis, taking walks with Sarah and talking with Lucy, the self-involved Carter becomes involved, alive. He looks out on the world, and back on himself, with fresh eyes. What he sees is that no matter your age, there's a conflict to resolve before you can move on.
But what he feels - and this might put Carter in company with The Graduate's Benjamin Braddock - is unexpected desire for mother and daughter who confide in him as they won't in each other.
Unlike Benjamin, and maybe this is a yardstick by which we can measure the distance between 1967 and 2007, Carter isn't torn between a predatory mother and her neglected daughter. He's torn between his genuine affection for both mother and daughter. And though he he is the initiator rather than the initiated, Carter worries that to follow through on stolen kisses would further confuse a confusing situation.
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.
But the film belongs to Brody, irritating and endearing and relatable in ways that actors rarely are. In In the Land of Women, he's the man!
In the Land of Women *** (out of four stars)
Written and directed by Jon Kasdan, photography by Paul Cameron, music by Stephen Trask, distributed by Warner Independent Films.
Running time: 1 hour, 38 mins.
Carter Webb. . . Adam Brody
Sarah Hardwicke. . . Meg Ryan
Phyllis. . . Olympia Dukakis
Lucy Hardwicke. . . Kristen Stewart
Agnes Webb. . . JoBeth Williams
Parent's guide: PG-13 (sexual content, profanity, mature themes)
Playing at: area theaters
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://go.philly.com/flickgrrl/