In the Land of Women
Worn down after getting turned out by his actress girlfriend, Carter Webb feels like he needs a change of scenery. Or, he just wants to run away. (Either phrasing works for him.) He can't get it together, and he figures a break from L.A., where he's a scriptwriter, is just what the break-up doctor ordered.
Grandma lives in Michigan, and he hasn't seen her in ages. So Carter gets on a plane. Across the street from Grandma live the Hardwickes. And as Carter gradually gets to know Sarah, her husband, and their two girls, Paige and Lucy, he finds that getting involved in their real lives makes him stop thinking about what he considers to be his fake one. It's not because their lives are pretty. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Serious illness and infidelity top the list—but don't complete it. And as the Hardwickes reach out to Carter for support and friendship, Carter finds himself eagerly reaching back.
Find someone to talk to about what you're going through. That may well be this film's dominant positive message. Carter needs Sarah and Lucy every bit as much as they need him, and their exchange of thoughts and feelings creates a catharsis that helps them all get through each day.
Indirectly, then, a failure to communicate is blamed for Sarah's husband's affair. And for the tension that the teenage Lucy feels around her mom. Paige, the younger sister, looks to be the healthiest member of the family—because she talks about everything she's feeling pretty much any time and with anyone. There can be downsides to that kind of openness, and not everything she chatters on about is good, but as a contrast to those around her, she's inspirational.
As a writer, Carter knows how much words mean. And he at times uses them effectively to encourage Sarah and Lucy. Whether through their own means or because of his influence, Mother and Daughter finally begin to mend their strained relationship. Carter, meanwhile, is tending to his own wounds when he moves in with his grandmother, but he also expresses a desire to take care of her and cheer her up with his presence.
[Spoiler Warning] In the Land of Women deals with breast cancer. And the only place I can justify writing about it is here because the film approaches the subject with compassion, visual restraint and understanding. It shows the disease's devastation (on physical and psychological levels). It shows the hope that can grow even in the midst of it. And it shows how family members can pull together when everything is breaking apart.
Terrified by what her mom is going through, Paige desperately needs to know if everything is going to be all right. She correctly reasons that the only way she can know she's getting the truth is to live in an environment that's truthful. And she realizes that she has to be truthful herself if she expects those around her to reciprocate. Sarah, for her part, speaks often about how important it is to know that you're alive and awake, and that your life is right where it's supposed to be.
[Spoiler Warning] Reacting emotionally to Sarah's need, Carter grabs her close and the two kiss passionately. A few scenes later—with similar feelings—he and Lucy kiss. Sarah reveals that her husband is cheating on her. And Lucy flounders around for the right words to tell Carter that when she was 11, she and a (boy) friend got naked and ... she trails off.
Lucy blames it on her own hesitancy to get physical when the star quarterback of the school's football team loses interest in her and "hooks up" with her best friend. Carter, however, doesn't blame his writing of pornographic movie scripts on anything. And neither does anyone else. Here such writing is just a normal, get-a-paycheck-at-the-end-of-the-month kind of career. Related to Carter's work, the movie tosses in discussions about the "hot" actresses who will play parts in his next film, and the scenarios in which they will have "illicit sex" with DSL installers, policemen, etc. Erections also get a mention.
Vignetted flashbacks show us the sexual portions of Carter's relationship with his ex-girlfriend. They kiss, clutch and are glimpsed naked in bed together (shoulders and heads).
Much is made of the fact that Grandma answers the door wearing only a sweater. (It covers her upper legs). Sarah examines her breast (underneath her tank top, and in a nonsexual manner).
Carter and the quarterback tussle. The quarterback throws a punch; Carter falls down. Then the quarterback is decked by a friend. Reminiscing about his old girlfriend while running, Carter smacks into a tree and passes out.
[Spoiler Warning] While not violent in how it happens, it's still worth noting that Grandma dies.
Crude or Profane Language
One-and-a-half f-words. Just shy of one-dozen s-words. Jesus' name is used for swearing once. Milder profanities ("a--," "h---") are limited to a half-dozen instances. A gay epithet is hurled. Grandma makes an obscene gesture.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Carter and Lucy both smoke. Carter's habit isn't dealt with. But Lucy's is. In a climactic scene she promises her mother that she'll quit.
High schoolers drink alcohol at a party. We see both prescription and over-the-counter medications being taken (for legitimate purposes). During a phone conversation between Carter and his ex, it becomes abundantly clear that she's stoned, drunk or both.
Other Negative Elements
Mild bathroom gags involve odors in public restrooms and Carter's distaste for fixing Grandma's stopped-up toilet. (We don't see it.) A few of the film's "Grandma's senile and about to die; isn't that funny!" jokes aren't funny.
On TV, The O.C. had some downer episodes in its day. But none of them comes close to being able to generate the emotionally sluggish feeling you have after seeing In the Land of Women. Adam Brody, whose face became a household fixture as the geeky-guy-next-door-who-eventually-becomes-so-much-more in that Fox drama, holds his own here, even when he's in the same frame as Meg Ryan. He's hunky. He's brooding. And he's likable. As is the script that surrounds him.
Neither he nor the script is likable in the traditional Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant movie sense, of course. Moviegoers without a quantity of melancholy in their personalities will begin to choke and gag long before the credits release them from what they'll almost certainly brand a hybrid of chick flick and dirge. (By piling on sickness, death, adultery and a Dear John speech or two, the film may well deserve such labels.) But for those of us who are prone to wallow from time to time, a visit to the Land of Women will trigger a cascade of feelings—without the corny song to go with them. Some of those feelings will hurt a little. Others will hurt a lot. But they'll also create a mood that might prompt real-life response. Some people may pick up the phone and call Grandma. Others may grab somebody in their family and give them a hug that lasts longer than usual. Or begin to quietly count their blessings one more time.
[Spoiler Warning] Land of Women doesn't give us many answers about what to do when bad things happen to us, nor does it care why they happen. It seems to exist solely to make us think about life, and to react by reaching out rather than retreating in. That's good. Or rather, I should say that would have been good if ... the film hadn't turned a morally blind eye to some pretty intense issues. Sarah is shown to suffer (sort of) because of her husband's infidelity. And Lucy's preteen sexual encounter seems to haunt her. (Again, sort of. Evidently, because of it, she can't muster enough courage to "hook up" with the school quarterback.)
How does Carter address these kinds of subjects? Carter quickly and confidently assures Lucy that "kids do that kind of thing all the time. It's not really that big of a deal." And he reassures Sarah that she's going to make it through, showing her how valuable she is as a woman ... by sharing a passionate embrace and kiss with her.
We're not surprised, of course, that before it's all over he's locked lips with both Mom and Daughter. Or that he's oblivious to how moral mess-ups really affect people. After all, he's the youthful everyman who's just like you and me but so happens to write "soft-core porn" movie scripts. He's OK with that. His mom's OK with that. And, evidently, the people who see his movies are OK with that. I won't even ask the rhetorical question here. I'll just write down the statement: We shouldn't really be OK with that. Or with any of the other slip-ups—from foul language to psychological misdirection—found In the Land of Women.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Adam Brody as Carter Webb; Meg Ryan as Sarah Hardwicke; Kristen Stewart as Lucy Hardwicke; Makenzie Vega as Paige Hardwicke; Olympia Dukakis as Grandma Archer
Jonathan Kasdan ( )