It's just a brief phone conversation but there's the feeling -- as superficial as it sounds -- that you not only understand Jonathan Kasdan, but that he'd be a good guy to hang out with as well.
Here's a young writer and director who could understandably do some serious name-dropping by mentioning his mother and father -- screenwriter Meg Kasdan ("Grand Canyon") and his screenwriter/director father Lawrence Kasdan ("The Big Chill"). Or by citing his biggest movie influences as "Raiders of the Lost" and "The Empire Strikes Back" (two megablockbusters written by his dad).
Instead, he only mentions two films with family connections, and his choices speak volumes: "Grand Canyon" and "The Big Chill." It's those two character-driven stories, not the special effects-driven blockbusters written by his father, that Jonathan Kasdan hoped to emulate in his big-screen directorial and writing debut, "In the Land of Women," now showing in area theaters.
"Certainly this movie has its roots in the type of character storytelling that was done in 'Grand Canyon' and 'Big Chill.' Those movies resonate pretty deeply for me," the younger Kasdan says during a recent telephone interview. "My dad had enormous success with that type of personal storytelling. I grew up in an environment where that type of writing was created with real enthusiasm. Certainly, had I not had that influence in my life I can't say that this movie would exist."
"In the Land of Women" is a refreshing take on human relationships because it's a love story without being a typical romance. Adam Brody ("The O.C.") plays Carter Webb, a twentysomething writer who leaves California for Michigan to care for his ailing grandmother and mend his own broken heart. There, his life becomes entwined with his grandmother (Olympic Dukakis) and a family of women living across the street that includes Meg Ryan and Kirsten Stewart as her teenage daughter. Carter and the women he meets are all seeking comfort and a connection in life, topics that are important to Kasdan.
"This is not a traditional love story in any way," Kasdan says. "All of the writing I've done in my life has been an evolving journey toward substantial themes. And one of them is the idea of trying to connect to the world and to connect to other people. I've had varied success with that. It's always been a struggle for me. Certainly I've had trouble connecting with women. I wanted to write about that process of people trying to connect to each other and either failing or succeeding and ultimately being richer in life for trying.
"The way in which this movie is a love story, however philosophical, is because it's really about three people falling in love with the experience of their lives," he continues. "They each play a role in romance and they each come to a place by the end where they are in touch with the experience and in touch with the joy."
These "life movies," as Kasdan calls them, are a long way from the kind of films he enjoyed watching when he was younger.
"When I was a kid, I always preferred big special-effect movies and kid movies. And there was a moment where dad and I were having a conversation and I said, 'You know what dad, I'm never gonna make a life movie like you,' " he says. "It's funny because I think my destiny is to exclusively write life movies."
Kasdan is quite open about the fact that there are many elements of his own life incorporated in "In The Land of Women."
"Almost everything in it has a very personal aspect to it," he says, including his own experience with cancer as a teenager.
"It is something I have been eager to talk about and write about," he says of the Hodgkin's disease he was diagnosed with at age 17. "It was a life-changing experience in good ways and negative ways. Certainly one of the things it gives you is an enormous appreciation for things. I wanted to write about that and how cancer can affect a person that way and I didn't want to write it about myself."
Just like Brody's character Carter Webb, Kasdan wished for the kind of high school life he missed out on as it's depicted in the films of John Hughes, one of his favorite directors. ("Ferris Bueller's Day Off," he says, is "as important a movie in my life as "Lawrence of Arabia.")
If there are echoes of Kasdan's life in his movie, then the highly romantic kiss in the rain between Brody and Ryan begs the question: Has Kasdan ever kissed a woman in the rain?
Kasdan gives one of his infectiously charming laughs. "I have actually," he says. "It was one of my earliest kisses. And certainly it's one of those things that happens in movies that I always love. No matter how many times I've seen it I can never stop reacting to it. It's the most romantic idea I can imagine which is why even as a film cliche, I couldn't resist the temptation to infuse the movie with that kind of romance."