In a curious inversion of reality and a hundred years of movie lore, Adam Brody stars as Carter, a hack screenwriter who flees Tinseltown, in this case, for the cozy confines of the mitten state, to care for his aging grandmother and to recapture his groove. One-time teen dream Brody is making a bid for big screen maturity, and in doing so he's traded in the golden beaches of The O.C for the tree-shrouded boulevards of our own O.C. Oakland County.
Truthfully, the script never specifies the name of its tony suburban Detroit locale; it could just as easily be Grosse Pointe as Bloomfield Hills, though the differences between those communities isn't an issue here. The real setting is movie fantasy world.
Whatever the ZIP code, this is a lush little Eden of manicured lawns, shiny new cars and gorgeous, fragile people with a closet full of personal problems and a burning desire to open their hearts to perfect strangers. To the bright and sensitive young writer, it's the perfect place to shake out the creative cobwebs and to get over a crushing breakup, a task complicated by the pair of age-inappropriate love interests living just across the street.
The elder of them is slowly wilting Sarah, played with convincingly urgent neediness by Meg Ryan, even though it would seem that excess Botoxing limits her range of expression. Earnest pup Carter starts taking long walks with clever cougar Sarah, having serious, soul-searching conversations with her even as her upper lip looks like it has been freshly stung by a bee. She's instantly attracted to him, but not enough to hesitate in pimping out her shy, nubile daughter Lucy (Kristen Stewart). Meanwhile Olympia Dukakis nicely channels Estelle Getty as the grandmother, providing shticky comic relief to all the wide-eyed, dewy romantic rambling.
The film was directed with more passion than skill by Jon Kasdan, son of Lawrence (The Big Chill) and younger brother of Jake, whose altogether more knowing film, The TV Set, is coming soon. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, and the youngest Kasdan does have a touch with actors, especially Stewart and the effortlessly likable Brody, but their characters are paper dolls hardly worth the fuss.
Kasdan obviously knows movies, but he seems not to know what people not raised on them think or talk like, and as the carefully selected soundtrack blares to underscore the cardboard emotions, it only reminds us of Garden State, The Graduate and many other better, wiser films.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.