A confused, hurt and self-destructive teddy bear is how Carter Webb (Adam Brody) sums up his life for his mentally unstable grandmother in the film “In The Land Of Women.” The story surrounds the emigration of a hack movie writer back to his family’s roots in Michigan to escape from the pain he feels after being dumped by a high-profile starlet. He is brought out of his emotional collapse by a suburban mother-daughter duo that finds his ability to actually listen refreshing and attractive.
The trailers paint this movie as a “Garden State” knock-off with the dialogue-savvy Brody, fresh off of his performance as the verbose comic book fan Seth Cohen in “The O.C.,” replacing the dreamy, not-quite-with it Zach Braff. And the similarities are there. The return to a place that doesn’t feel like home, the isolation, the sexy new love interest and complicated introspection may leave many viewers expecting the Shins to pop up on the soundtrack at any moment. We even have the romantic kiss set in the rain cued to a dramatic crescendo of realization.
But this is not a replay of Zach Braff’s film endeavor. The story really is about listening and the value that just having a sympathetic ear has for making life bearable. The movie sets up a very familiar formula for a young man to figure himself out, but instead of focusing on his journey, the focus really is on the women in his life and their problems. Webb, in running from his problems, ends up not talking about his life and discovering inner truths, but rather comes off as a quiet guy good at hearing about others’ troubles.
The most remarkable aspect of the film is how little action and strong advice goes on between the main characters. No one comes up with answers or solutions, but everyone feels better just talking. There are no replay voice-overs of dynamic, startling observation to explain why the daughter’s attitude towards her mom evolves, and Webb seems to sum up his experience with a shrug. The appeal of the film is seeing how realistic people deal with their normal but taxing issues.
That is not to say that nothing happens in the movie. This isn’t just people sitting around cups of tea crying about their feelings. There is a lot of excellent humor in the quirky supporting cast, especially the youngest daughter not yet in high school doing yoga just before bed. The grandmother, too, is amazing in her constant obsession with dying that leads her to put the number for the body bag folks that will come to collect her on the phone handle. There is also, of course, the mockery of white suburban kids doing their best impression of MTV rap videos. This side-plot delves into the incredibly predictable but lovable friend showdown over a girl.
The movie really delivers in banter and the snarky, jaded, broken soul approach that Webb brings to all of his social interactions. He’s only twenty-six years old, but his point of view is so resigned and patronizing that even the older characters seem amused by his elder statesmanlike personality. Brody handles this character with the same LA skepticism and clever word play that fans have long (well, not too long) loved in his portrayal of Cohen. He shows a real reach from his small screen alter-ego in the long silences and complete detachedness from his surroundings. He is not excitable or over-analyzing about his situation, but sees everything through gray-colored glasses that make most of his responses concerning his heart-break and lack of direction some form of “meh.”
The movie is endlessly amusing in its dialogue and avoids concentrating on what it means for an ordinary Joe to get dumped by a Lindsay Lohan or Natalie Portman (though those moments are there, and they are hilarious), opting for a more subdued look at being hurt in love and figuring out what makes love worthwhile. It also serves an as important counter-point to movies that summon incredible insight in a few short lines that make everything okay. Listening is the prescription of the film, and it is also the best way to watch it: with careful ears and an acceptance that not all problems can be solved with catch phrases found on AIM profiles.