In his first feature film, In the Land of Women, Jonathan Kasdan has created a most peculiar place. To those merely passing through its leafy suburban streets, it is a beautiful and ambitious landscape inhabited by equally striking creatures whose lingering looks, perfectly-tousled hair and alluring nature practically seduce its male visitors into extending their stay. Sound inviting? Well, before you pack your bags, know that beneath this picturesque suburbia lies a languid land divided.

In fact, once you journey deeper into Kasdan's imaginary world, you will disappointingly find a cliché lurking on every corner, the pungent smell of male-narcissism blowing through the trees and a vulnerable Michigan town comprised of far-too-fragile females whose dark, tormented pasts have left them not only displaced in their own homes, but all-too willing to expose their insecurities to any stranger who will stop long enough to listen. One slip of the wheel and In the Land of Women shifts from a questionably-romantic comedy to an emo-driven drama with no real direction and characters that forge no realistic connection with us, or each other.

To Jonathan's (son of Lawrence â"The Big Chill, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and Body Heat" Kasdan) credit, In the Land of Women boldly attempts to unearth a host of deep-rooted, universal problems through an aggressive script and some extremely healing performances. However, its severely underdeveloped characters, forced relationships, and the desperate, sexist need for a helping male hand to save the day, render it incapable of the growth required to make Kasdan's maiden voyage actually worth the trip.

Rumored to be a semi-autobiographical account of Kasdan's life, In the Land of Women focuses on Carter Webb (The O.C.'s Adam Brody), an aspiring screenwriter whose ink-driven talents are wasted churning out dialogue for the porn industry. Stuck in a menial job and losing direction, Carter is blind-sided when his actress girlfriend (Elena Anaya) abruptly ends their relationship. Heartbroken and unsure of his next move, Carter learns that his grandmother (Olympia Dukakis), whom he barely knows, is ill and convinced that she is about to die. In an effort to escape the Los Angeles scene, work on his screen play, mend his heart and, oh yeah, take care of his ailing grandmother, he heads to her Michigan home with aspirations for self-reflection.

To Carter's unexpected delight, he meets neighbors Sarah (Meg Ryan) and Lucy (Kristen Stewart) Hardwicke; mother and daughter strangers, who while suffering individual crises of life and love, turn to the mysterious Carter for refuge. But in lending a sympathetic male ear (and opening his heart) to the women around him, Carter finds that each female figure in his life - be it age seven or seventy-seven - is not only having a profound effect on his notions of family, friendship and romance, but framing his life, his work, and ultimately, reshaping him as a man.

With that basic premise, In the Land of Women had the potential to be a sharp, tender and thought-provoking film about our incessant search for love and acceptance, all while celebrating the beauty of women. But instead, Kasdan's homage to the female persuasion effectively reduced every mother, sister, friend and lover to a one-dimensional character who has wandered aimlessly through life taking breaths, until loveable-loser Brody walked in and somehow took all of their breaths away. Don't get me wrong, Brody is adorable in that O.C. kind of way, but the suggestion that one such average Toy in Babeland possesses that kind of power over four female generations, is both comical and embarrassing to women, at best.

More implausible is the rate at which the characters' relationships progress. While the therapeutic strolls between Carter and Sarah had the ability to become the most engaging and character-driven moments of the film, Kasdan damagingly chose to propel their relationship at warp-speed. In fact, Sarah does not take three steps before detailing her most intimate details to a bonafide stranger - regrets of motherhood, lack of love for a philandering husband, constantly being judged by an unappreciative and angst-ridden teenage daughter and now, facing a battle with breast cancer, are the immediate topics of an unrealistic conversation. And while Carter is afforded the opportunity to whine not only about being dumped but how his romantic emails where some of his greatest literary achievements (are you kidding me?), his shocking response to an admission of breast cancer is to make-out with the wounded Sarah in the rain. And you thought romance was dead?

Even creepier is that Kasdan has sculpted a second plot-line where a twenty-six-year-old Carter also plays Mumford-esque psychology with the equally vulnerable, sixteen or seventeen-year-old Lucy. Movie-dates (confusingly, at Sarah's behest), high school parties and late night cigarette sharing aside, Kasdan suddenly chooses to blur the sibling-like relationship lines and allow these two to share a passionate kiss despite the almost ten-year age difference. And while trailers and movie posters promote that very kiss, what people will not realize until watching In the Land of Women is that prior to locking lips, an underage Lucy confided in Carter a confusing and questionably sexual experience she encountered at age eleven. To be frank, I hardly find a resulting kiss to be romantic, but instead, rather disturbing.

And while this story and its acting will hardly leave a lasting impression after the credits have rolled, it can be attributed, in part, to the wasted talents of veteran-actresses Olympia Dukakis and JoBeth Williams. Sadly, Dukakis is left to play a crotchety grandmother who answers the door without pants and delivers a handful of tired jokes about growing old and accepting death, while Williams (as Carter's mom) is limited to one scene at the start of the film. Those familial relationships involving the most important women in Carter's life (and ultimately, could have been the most revealing ) were instead, traded for scenes involving high school machismo and Carter becoming so absorbed in thoughts about his ex, that he literally runs into a tree. Again, slices of real life that are so erratically chopped together that they walk out of your life just as quickly as they walked in.

The truth is, upon viewing the trailer for In the Land of Women, I wanted to love this movie. But to my dismay, it evolved into something completely beyond the commercial facade built by the studio. It is neither a film blooming with romance nor one that thrives with strong, female characters. Instead, Kasdan has created an emotionally oppressed town harboring a gaping wound, and ever so simply, Carter is the band-aid that its weak inhabitants have been waiting for. Whether these plagued women simply needed someone, anyone - and Carter is merely the one who arrived - we will never know, because Kasdan felt that they were simply not worth exploring. The truth is, these surface characters were not only worth delving into, but worth healing.

Ironically, Carter's most poetic verse about life can also be attributed to this critic's overall impression of In the Land of Women: " It's messy, and it's chaotic... and it's never, ever the thing you'd expect." Sadly enough, it just isn't a place worth visiting.


DVD Details:

Screen formats: Widescreen Anamorphic 1.33:1

Subtitles: English; French, Spanish

Language and Sound: English: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access.

* Trailers - For License To Wed, Gracie, The Ellen Show, No Reservations, and August Rush.

Number of discs: - 1- Keepcase packaging