Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Lost in the Land of Women

'In the Land of Women' has all the naive enthusiasm of early 'Dawson's Creek', but it wants to be a remake of 'Garden State'. Rather than starring an aspiring teen director, this story is about a 20-something screenwriter that's had to compromise and is writing for soft-core porn; rather than New Jersey, we're given another butt-of-all-jokes sort of state, that being Michigan. And it's too self-conscious, too eager to let us in on these ambitions and jokes. This is a problem, and not simply because the cute meta moments are so sweet that they're practically candy-coated - the problem is also that it's just not a very good joke.

The film's final scene says it all. Carter, the writer who had traveled to Michigan to take care of his grandma and find himself in the process, is sitting in a diner, trying to finish writing the story of her life. (Let me guess - that story was turned into this screenplay, right? Blech.) A waitress wanders over and tries to help, but mostly just exchanges some adorably flirtatious banter with him. And so a discussion about how to end the film, in a scene that has basically nothing to do with the rest of the movie, becomes itself the end of the film. It's painful not just in that sugar-rot-in-your-teeth sort of way, but for its complete disregard for the intelligence of its audience.

Another significant problem is revealed in this scene, too. Carter is writing about his grandma when he should be writing about himself. Throughout the film, grandma has only ever been a pale imitation of Sophia Petrillo; the story is Carter's, after all, and she's interesting only insofar as she provides some comic relief for his quarter-life crisis. (Likewise, Kevin Williamson lost sight of the fact that Dawson,his title character, was the emotional center as the series went on - joining Joey and Pacey in the end seemed aimed at surprising his audience rather than satisfying them.)

But then the film isn't quite sure of whose story it's telling from the 30-minute-mark on. Carter dominates the entire first act, but as soon as the mother and daughter from across the street appear, the film re-focuses variously through any one of the now three protagonists. That metafictional element where Carter is writing the very film that he stars in - an already too nice and too obvious trick - isn't even structurally coherent, as it demands that Carter tell stories that he didn't know about characters that he didn't really understand. (Well, the latter is certainly true of Sarah, the mother, if not her daughter.)

To what end, then? In order to broaden its market appeal, I suppose.

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