Jon Kasdan’s In the Land of Women is so pillow-soft that its most jarring element is the countenance of Meg Ryan, whose once warm, sunshiny face has been nipped and tucked into a rigid feline Joker grin. The actress’s reconfigured visage results in restricted expressions, though such limitations pale in comparison to those of Kasdan’s script, which recounts the coming-of-age saga of 26-year-old Carter (Adam Brody), an L.A. scribe of softcore pornographic movies who dreams of writing a semi-autobiographical novel, and who reacts to being dumped by his actress-model girlfriend (Elena Anaya) by relocating to Michigan to care for his grandmother (Olympia Dukakis). Before leaving, Mom (JoBeth Williams) reminds her lovelorn son that women have always been drawn to him, a fact the film never justifies—what with Carter being the type of gratingly sarcastic, geeky-cool know-it-all that Brody embodied on The O.C.—but nonetheless reiterates when Carter finds himself enmeshed in the lives of neighbor Sarah (Ryan) and her rebellious daughter Lucy (Kristen Stewart). Sarah is a homemaker who’s recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, has a cheating husband, and is estranged from Lucy, whose own dilemma is lacking the courage to hook up with her asshole jock boyfriend.
Kasdan (son of Lawrence) isn’t much of a director but he’s even less of a writer, and his debut’s schmaltz plays out like a corny Lifetime-for-men TV movie. Carter makes out with both Sarah and Lucy and then helps them overcome their problems with tough love, sage advice, and one heartfelt letter, all while learning something about himself—namely, that he’s a super-duper guy too mature and selfless to come between mother and child. In the Land of Women‘s dramedy involves flip-flopping between a pants-less Dukakis giving Brody the finger and a solitary Ryan crying as she grasps a handful of chemotherapy-ized hair, with none of the intended laughs or tears. As pop songs by Huey Lewis and INXS aggressively vie for attention, Kasdan tries—via keg party fisticuffs—to bestow Carter with the prototypical John Hughes high-school moment he yearns for, yet whereas Hughes’s storybook teenage melodramas were always rooted in emotional truth, Kasdan’s ungainly film is, finally, only grounded in smarmy sensitive-guy fantasy.