In order to make a truly transcendent coming-of-age movie, you need one thing—a stellar soundtrack. Think about it. The Graduate gave us "Mrs. Robinson." The Big Chill was chock full of so much Motown goodness that they actually released a 15th anniversary edition of the soundtrack in 1998 (I can find no indication of a similar fête for the movie itself.) And 2004's Garden State was a good movie made great by a slate of sublime backing songs, most notably Frou Frou's "Let Go." You can bank on an anniversary edition of that soundtrack circa 2019.

I can't remember any of the songs from In the Land of Women.

Adam Brody as Carter Webb

Adam Brody as Carter Webb

The movie finds Carter Webb (Adam Brody) as he's getting the heave-ho from his model/actress girlfriend. It's a great scene—the pair sits in a gold vinyl booth, the camera pans between them, allowing each of their tortured faces to fill up the screen. (I couldn't help but look for Pulp Fiction's Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield among the fellow patrons in the L.A. diner.) You immediately get the message that Carter is a romantic soul (the model's emotion might just be an act). You can imagine that this isn't the first such break-up he's suffered. And it probably won't be the last.

It's a bit jarring, then, to learn that Carter is a writer of soft-core porn. Not so romantic. But the job does offer him the flexibility to run off to Michigan to tend to his ailing grandmother and nurse his broken heart.

Olympia Dukakis as Phyllis

Olympia Dukakis as Phyllis

Olympia Dukakis plays the cantankerous grandmother, Phyllis, who insists she's dying while her family insists she fine—neither side seems to have much basis for their opinion. Her performance (and odd accent) is a bit overwrought; Dukakis seemed to be taking some pleasure in seeing how ridiculous she could be. But she well serves her role as purveyor of "unexpected" wisdom about what's really important in life.

More compelling, though, is the across-the-street neighbor Sarah Hardwicke, played with aplomb by Meg Ryan. It's been a while since Ryan has been seen on the big screen, and her performance here should serve as a reminder why she's made a good living in this business. Her Sarah is a wife and mother who is quietly suffocating. Her husband is having an affair, her older daughter hates her, and she's afraid her life will have been meaningless. But while this might all add up to a hysteric matriarch or a doormat, Sarah is thoughtful and complex and kind. And when she is diagnosed with breast cancer she performs a difficult feat—she avoids becoming a martyr.

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Makenzie Vega as Paige and Kristen Stewart as Lucy

Makenzie Vega as Paige and Kristen Stewart as Lucy

Sarah and Carter develop a friendship, and Sarah convinces her teenage daughter Lucy to take pity on the mostly alone Carter and take him out to a movie. It's unfortunate that the movie poster for In the Land of Women centers on a kiss between Carter and Lucy. Sure, you can see the kiss coming, but in some ways it's the least defining moment of the film. The kiss Carter and Sarah share is far more interesting, for example.

This might sound a bit tawdry—a guy kissing the daughter and the mom—but the characters are so winsome that you buy that each is genuinely searching for some good in the other and, more broadly, in life. In the land of women, Carter learns what bravery looks like and his romantic myopia is challenged.

Meg Ryan as Sarah

Meg Ryan as Sarah

In that it features strong women and a man who seems unsure of himself, In the Land of Women does catch something of the romantic zeitgeist of this time, much in the way The Big Chill did in the early '80s. But I suspect In the Land of Women won't have the same stamina as the older movie. There's the aforementioned lack of memorable songs, of course. But I also think the movie will suffer from a disconnect between the advertising material that courts teens with its focus on one hot kiss, and the substance of the movie which includes a nuanced vision of the give-and-take that makes up family life.

Speaking of family, In the Land of Women is the directorial debut for Jonathan Kasdan, son of Lawrence Kasdan, who directed The Big Chill. It's perhaps apropos that Jonathan would made his directorial debut in a coming-of-age flick given that he made his big screen debut in his father's pop culture classic take on the heartaches of becoming an adult. As the son of two key characters, young Jon can be seen in the bathtub in The Big Chill. And you thought it was embarrassing when your parents pulled out the baby-takes-a-bath pictures. You have no idea.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. Why do you think women are drawn to Carter? What is it about his personality and/or character that makes women want to engage him in conversation?
  2. Carter makes the observation that he often idealizes his girlfriends and that the relationships fall apart once fantasy meets reality. Do you know anyone who has a similar tendency to idealize the opposite sex? How does one get beyond this to embrace the full reality of another person?
  3. Discuss Sarah's reaction to her husband's affair. Do you think she handles it in the right way? Why or why not?
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  1. Discuss Lucy's reaction to her father's affair. Why do you think she was sympathetic? What phenomena is at work that would make her angry at her mother rather than her father?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

In the Land of Women is rated PG-13 for some mature sexual situations, partial nudity, disturbing images and brief drug content. The main character is a writer of soft-core pornography, and there are mild references to the scenarios in his scripts. There is discussion of an affair and two ill-advised kisses take place, but there are no sex scenes. One character discusses a sexual experience from her childhood that had negative ramifications.

What other Christian critics are saying:

In the Land of Women
Our Rating
2½ Stars - Fair
Average Rating
(not rated yet)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG-13 (for some mature sexual situations, partial nudity, disturbing images and brief drug content)
Directed By
Jonathan Kasdan
Run Time
1 hour 37 minutes
Adam Brody, Kristen Stewart, Meg Ryan
Theatre Release
April 20, 2007 by Warner Brothers
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