- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 21, 2007

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving the entertainment lives of families, provides reviews of the latest movies from a parenting perspective. For more reviews, click on commonsensemedia.org.

‘In the Land of Women’

Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, thematic elements and language.

Common Sense Media: Pause. For ages 14 and older.

*** (out of five stars)

Running time: 98 minutes

Common Sense review: To devotees of “The O.C.,” Adam Brody will forever be fast-talking, lanky-limbed, high-strung Seth Cohen. Writer-director Jonathan Kasdan plays up Mr. Brody’s inherent Seth-ness in the role of Carter Webb, the kind of sensitive, witty soul to whom women want to bare their soul — and eventually their hearts.

Carter, a Los Angeles writer who pens soft-core porn scripts, has just been dumped by his gorgeous girlfriend (sexily accented Spanish starlet Elena Anaya). He decides to recover by visiting his healthy-but-nonetheless-ready-to-die grandmother (Olympia Dukakis) in the Detroit suburbs.

While playing nurse-boy to his cranky grandma, Carter strikes up a friendship with her neighbor Sarah (Meg Ryan) — the kind of cardigans-and-cargo-pants-wearing stay-at-home mom whose house looks like a Crate and Barrel catalog. After just a few walks to the park and trips to the store, the two become confidants. Turns out Sarah’s life isn’t as tidy as her home: Her teenage daughter, Lucy (a distractingly thin Kristen Stewart), seems to hate her, and her husband (Clark Gregg) is having a not-so-discreet affair. But the worst thing? She’s just discovered she has breast cancer.

Carter forms fast, complicated friendships with both Sarah and Lucy, and they provide the emotional heart of the film. As he gets to know Lucy, her steely veneer of teen angst (She paints when she’s “freaked out”) gives way to a fraught confession of just why she’s perpetually angry at her mom. Naturally, both mother and daughter have a crush on Carter, lending the film even more teen-opera drama.

The predictable plot is the stuff of movies of the week, but thanks to the winning charm of the actors involved, it’s emotionally satisfying to watch Carter help these women mend their broken relationships and overcome their self-doubt. “In the Land of Women” is exactly the kind of well-acted — albeit formulaic — “chick flick” that a mother and teen daughter would enjoy equally.

Common Sense note: Parents need to know that teen girls will want to see this drama thanks to Mr. Brody, but his character here isn’t a teenager; instead, he’s a man with women issues.

Families can talk about women’s roles and mother-child relationships. Does being a stay-at-home mom make a woman worthless, without anything to show for her life? Why does Lucy perceive her mom as a failure and a fake, and how does Carter challenge Lucy to change her perspective? How does the media depict housewives? Is this film an accurate portrayal? Families also can discuss the difference between Sarah’s relationship with her two daughters and how Carter helps the women around him feel better about themselves.

Sexual content: Carter passionately kisses three different characters. In flashbacks, viewers see a montage of Carter and Sofia’s relationship, including discreet glimpses of them making love in bed. Lucy confesses she had a pre-pubescent sexual episode. An extramarital affair is discussed in two pivotal scenes.

Language alert: Regular PG-13 curse words, and a few sexual comments about orgasms, seduction and pornography.

Violence alert: Lucy’s ex-boyfriend clocks Carter in the face; another teen defends him by punching the ex.

Commercialism alert: Less than expected for a film marketed to teen girls.

Social-behavior alert: Carter and Lucy smoke cigarettes. Underage drinking is evident at a high school party.

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