If you’ve see the ads with vulnerable cutie Adam Brody from “The O.C.” kissing willowy cutie Kristen Stewart (the kid in Panic Room and growing up very nicely), you probably think it must be a romantic comedy. That’s what they want you to think because it will sell tickets.
Get that idea out of your mind and you might find a way to the real but uncertain pleasures of this intriguing first effort from writer-director Jonathan Kasden (son of writer-director Lawrence and brother of writer-director Jake, whose own first movie is also coming out this month).
Like its main character, the film is a little lost but filled with promise, with some lovely moments, some telling thoughts about the power of listening.
So much promise, in fact, that it manages to overcome the considerable challenge of keeping our affection despite two well-established movie-killers — the precocious child and the dying grandmother who’s gone a little gaga.
Carter (Brody) is a writer who gets dumped by his successful and beautiful girlfriend in the very first scene. Feeling at a loss, he tells his mother he will go to visit his grandmother in Michigan to take care of her and work on his writing.
His grandmother (Oscar-winner Olympia Dukakis) seems to be losing it completely, and he feels a million miles away from anything.
And then Sarah (Meg Ryan) from across the street impulsively asks him if he’d like to come along when she walks her dog. In spite of not knowing each other — in fact, because they don’t know each other — they begin to talk about what really matters to them, about fears and embarrassing secrets.
Sarah pushes her teenage daughter Lucy (Stewart) to take Carter to a movie, and she brings along her little sister Paige (Makenzie Vega), who is even precocious about how precocious she is, sort of precocity cubed.
At first, Carter is preoccupied with his own unhappiness. But he begins to listen to Sarah and Lucy and the very experience of being sympathetically listened to, more than what anyone says, has a transforming effect on all three of them.
At one point in the movie, a minor character makes a very graphic point about the worries all of us have that someone will find out our secrets and think we are disgusting. And as Carter totes his grandmother’s used Depends out to the curb with the garbage, he shows the fear of not just being disgusting but being disgusted. This theme echoes in less clunky and obvious ways throughout Carter’s talks with Sarah and Lucy and it is in those moments that we see not just Carter’s promise, but writer-director Kasden’s as well.
Parents should know that this movie has some strong language, brief violence, some inappropriate kisses, references to adultery, teen smoking and drinking, and a reference to being “wasted.” A character has cancer and there is a sad death. A strength of the movie is that it is a rare contemporary film that takes kissing seriously.
Families who see this film should talk about the way that Sarah’s family handled secrets. Which did they handle well and which could they have handled better? What was the most important thing Carter learned from Sarah? From Lucy?