Director: Nicole Holofcener
Cast: Ben Mendelsohn, Edie Falco, Connie Britton
BBFC Certificate: 15
Watch The Land of Steady Habits online in the UK: Netflix UK
Every month, we highlight films directed by women on Netflix UK. We call it Women on Netflix.
What happens when a middle-aged man decides he wants a divorce, early retirement and to befriend a drug-addicted teenager? For Anders (Ben Mendehlson), it doesn’t quite seem to bring the contentment he’s searching for, but instead sets into motion a series of events that will impact the lives of everybody around him.
Despite his life-changing actions, the audience is never quite made aware of what exactly Anders’ motivations are. He describes the finance industry as greedy and tells the story of the straw that broke the camel’s back for his marriage, but it all feels vague and under-developed. To slip into the downward spiral that he has, you would assume there was more of a catalyst, more of a tipping point, but he just comes across as a mildly unhappy man who had a bit of a mid-life crisis and decided to turn everything upside down. As much as Mendehlson is fantastic and does his best to sell the character, Anders just isn’t particularly likeable. And even though he becomes slightly more sympathetic towards the film’s climax, it’s hard to overlook the decisions Anders makes and his irresponsible actions.
If we knew more about him, he would perhaps be more likeable, but this is a problem shared by all the characters. We see so many little moments in so many people’s lives that you never feel like you really get to know them. It’s sometimes even difficult to decide whose film this actually is: Anders, his son, Preston (Thomas Mann), or even his new friend, Charlie (Charlie Tahan, who gives an excellent, understated performance). The lack of depth and backstory given to the characters is particularly prevalent with Anders’ new love interest, Barbara (Connie Britton), his ex-wife, Helene (Edie Falco), and Charlie’s mother, Sophie (Elizabeth Marvel), with all three giving excellent, nuanced performances. In fact, the audience may find themselves wishing one of these three were actually the lead, and it was their story they were watching, rather than seeing them relegated to supporting roles in the sombre, self-pitying saga that is Anders’ life.
Despite this, the film is partially saved not only by the performances of its cast, but also the fact that when director Nicole Holofcener gets it right, she gets it very right. Holofcener also took script-writing duties and the dialogue and the relationships between the cast are excellent and incredibly authentic. It’s a shame that she didn’t allow the characters more time on screen to develop and leave their mark on the audience, but it’s a testament to her writing and directing skills that we are left wanting to see more of every character they are introduced to, even the unlikeable ones. Unfortunately, the plot never quite seems to go anywhere. It’s a short film, only 98 minutes long, and its events take place over only a few days, but it feels much longer, and like a much longer period of time has passed, simply because it moves so slowly. If it had allowed us more time with its characters and committed more to whose story it was going to tell, The Land of Steady Habits could have been a beautiful depiction of addiction and the discontent we can all feel in our lives. But instead, it’s a film that, apart from the performances, is largely unmemorable and, at times, feels just as uncommitted to where its going as its protagonist does.
The Land of Steady Habits is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.