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A sweet story Meg Ryan returns as a cutie-pie mom in 'Land of Women'

Meg Ryan is back. Oh, I know she has played in movies here and there -- serious stuff, I hear, dramatic stuff. But "In the Land of Women" returns her to us as the vulnerable little baby-voiced cutie pie she always used to play. Remember "When Harry Met Sally"? Remember "Sleepless in Seattle"?

It might be hard for Ryan's 1980s fans to get used to her cast as the mom of a teenager (played by skinny, sulky Kristen Stewart). But she looks pretty much the same. She has the tousled tendrils, the teary eyes, the scarves. What is with Meg Ryan and scarves? Is it in her contract that she gets to wear one in every movie she's in?

The movie is written by Jonathan Kasdan, whose dad, Lawrence Kasdan, wrote such movies as "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "The Empire Strikes Back" and "The Big Chill." (The elder Kasdan is a producer of "In the Land of Women.")

Kasdan the younger has created a sweet story that's at least semirealistic, which is high praise these days.

"In the Land of Women" centers on Carter (TV it-boy Adam Brody), who is dumped by his glamorous young girlfriend, Sophia. The very funny opening scene shows her hedging on delivering the coup de grace.

"Let's be honest with ourselves," she says, with her adorable accent. "I think we always knew this wasn't going to work out." Breakup cliches follow: "I care about you," "I don't want to hurt you," "I need space."

Dazed with grief, Carter leaves his mom (an amusing cameo by JoBeth Williams) and goes to look after his grandmother (Olympia Dukakis) and, he hopes, write a novel, which would be a welcome switch from the soft-porn screenplays he has been writing.

It's a drag how many books and movies are about writers. The act of writing isn't exactly exciting to watch. Especially now, when instead of pecking away at picturesque typewriters, our on-screen writers stare at computer screens.

Luckily, though, the writing life doesn't figure in much in this story. It's easy to forget Carter has a vocation of any kind. Most of his time is spent on the women who surround him.

The funniest is his grandmother. Like Ryan, Dukakis pretty much plays herself. "I'm going to be dead before long" is her refrain. "Can you cook?" she asks Carter. "Because I haven't eaten in three weeks. Well, I had pasta. Nothing else."

The sexiest is Ryan's Sarah, a Mrs. Robinson figure with her scarves and her Old English bulldog (a great accessory to romance). Ryan and Brody have a good chemistry. True, their dialogue isn't like anything you'll encounter in real life. There's too much instant intimacy, too much "You go first" and "What makes you ask that?" But it's affecting to see these two oddballs becoming close. Both are the walking wounded. Carter has a broken heart, and Sarah has just learned she has breast cancer.

Still, "In the Land of Women" moves along, it's often funny, and enough aspects of the movie are original to keep it interesting. Brody rises to the challenge of holding the movie together. He's engaging and just intense enough.




3 stars (Out of 4)

STARRING: Meg Ryan, Adam Brody, Olympia Dukakis, Kristen Stewart

DIRECTOR: Jonathan Kasdan

RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes

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

THE LOWDOWN: Fleeing heartbreak, a young man finds himself surrounded by women.

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