Writer-director Jonathan Kasdan follows in the footsteps of his father and older brother, Lawrence (THE BIG CHILL) and Jake (ZERO EFFECT, ORANGE COUNTY), with his first feature film, a clever comedy about a young L.A.-based screenwriter who finds himself stuck between three very different Midwestern women.
Heartbroken after getting the old "I need a little space" speech from his model-actress girlfriend (Elena Anaya), 26-year-old aspiring screenwriter Carter Webb (Adam Brody) decides it's time to escape L.A. for something less emotionally involving. After his mother (JoBeth Williams) expresses concern about Carter's grandmother, Phyllis (Olympia Dukakis) — the old lady is convinced she's dying — Carter offers to fly out to Michigan and spend a few emotionally recuperative weeks with Grandma and her cat. The hiatus will allow him to temporarily set aside the spirit-draining "premier soft-core erotica" he's been writing for his boss (Robert Reinis) — how many ways can a guy write sexual compulsives and keep it fresh? — plus he'll finally get to work on a long-dreamed-of project about his tony West L.A. high school. But if simplicity is what Carter craves, he won't find it in Michigan. He arrives to find Grandma's house a mess, her cat dead and Grandma herself a difficult grump whom the neighbors simply refer to as "Crazy" — she has no compunction about answering the door with no pants on and saying exactly what's on her mind. Meanwhile, directly across the street, a serious domestic drama is unfolding. Mom Sarah Hardwicke (Meg Ryan) has discovered a lump in her breast, and while she and her husband (Clark Gregg) are trying their best not to panic, they've decided against telling their daughters, teenage Lucy (the pretty but undernourished-looking Kristen Stewart) and her kid sister Paige (always-reliable child actor Makenzie Vega), until after Sarah undergoes a complete exam. In the meantime, Sarah meets Carter and they begin taking long walks together through their idyllic suburban neighborhood. Carter unloads all the details of his recent heartbreak, while Sarah, who finds Carter easy to talk to, confesses she no longer knows herself as anything other than a wife and mother. Sarah encourages Lucy to befriend Carter, and even though he pumps her for details about Midwestern high-school life, he's really far more interested in her mother.
The fact that Kasdan ends with an extended joke about how difficult it can be to write a really satisfactory conclusion doesn't mitigate the fact that he wasn't able to come up with one. But his film is nevertheless smart and funny in ways many people no longer expect from American comedy. Brody is particularly charming — he has a dry, ironic sense of humor that's never off-putting and shows real leading-man potential — while Dukakis manages to crank up the crazy-lady act a few notches and still make it work. And if you can get past the lips, Ryan gives a touching performance as a woman determined to battle her cancer while knowing life offers no guarantees except death — an understanding no doubt sharpened by Kasdan's own experience battling Hodgkin's disease as a teenager. leave a comment --Ken Fox