One of the pleasures of Nicole Holofcener’s films is watching how individuals navigate change in their lives. She always finds a way to bring both humour and poignant nuance to the personal journey her characters embark on. Which makes her latest work, The Land of Steady Habits, such a perplexing work. It has all the typical elements that one has come to expect from Holofcener, yet it lacks the overall energy of her previous works.
Part of this might be a result of Holofcener doing her first adaptation, the film is based on the novel by Ted Thompson, but there is also the fact that we have seen this type of story far too often. Tales of well off middle-aged white men going trying to reclaim an aspect of their life, specifically responsibility free years, have practically become a genre onto itself. One only needs to see last years Brad Status as an example of this.
In The Land of Steady Habits, it is Anders Hill (Ben Mendelsohn), living in the wealthy enclave of Westport, Connecticut, who is trying to understand his place in the world. Retiring from his good financial job and ending his lengthy marriage to Helene (Edie Falco), Anders is finally indulging in the freedom he has longed for, only to discover that is leaving a bitter taste in his mouth. With no real sense of direction, and having problems satisfying his random partners in the bedroom, Anders’ downward spiral is expedited when he attends a neighbours annual Christmas party and sees Helene with her new boyfriend (Bill Camp).
Unable to pay the mortgage on the house he and Helene once shared; and realizing that his relationship with his son Preston (Thomas Mann) is more strained than ever, Anders proceeds to make risky choices, such as doing drugs with the neighbour’s trouble son Charlie (Charlie Tahan), that could ruin the few good things he has left, including a potential relationship with Barbara (Connie Britton).
Holofcener patiently observes Anders realise that his former life was not as bad a he thought, however, the film provides little reason to truly invest in Anders journey. He is a self-centered individual who refuses to take responsibility for his reckless actions until it is too late.
Since Holofcener focuses so little on developing the supporting characters, their interactions with the floundering Anders never feels as impactful as they should. Similar to Anders, one feels distant to the events unfolding. Mendelsohn tries his best to show the layers of the character, however, there is very little in the film that allows The Land of Steady Habits to standout from the pack.