“The Land of Steady Habits”, which was recently released on Netflix, is a typical suburban comedy drama about one middle-aged guy’s bumpy attempt toward a new beginning for his unhappy life. Although there have already been many similar films out there, the movie engages us thanks to its solid storytelling and characterization, and it also has another fine performance from an actor who has been one of the most compelling performers during recent years.
Ben Mendelsohn, a dependable Australian character actor who has been a lot more prominent since his nasty breakthrough turn in “Animal Kingdom” (2010), plays Anders Hill, and the early scenes of the movie show us how this guy’s life has been going nowhere since he suddenly decided to walk away from not only his family but also his lucrative job in some financial company. Now living alone in a smaller house in his neighborhood, Anders seems free and fine on the surface, but he still feels frustrated and discontented as before, and he frequently goes to a local mall for buying stuffs for filling his rather empty residence. When he comes across a woman around his age during his shopping, he does not hesitate to come a bit closer to her during their casual conversation on a vase, and we soon see them having a little private time later.
While there is not much anger or resentment between him and his ex-wife Helene (Edie Falco), Anders cannot help but become envious and petty when he comes to learn that Helene has already been moving onto the next chapter of her life along with her boyfriend Donny (Bill Camp), who has incidentally worked in the same financial company where Anders once worked. Although he had no qualms about handing the family house to Helene, Anders does not like much Helene living with Donny in the house, and his subsequent meeting with Donny and Helene is certainly awkward to say the least.
The circumstance gets messier thanks to Anders and Helene’s son Preston (Thomas Mann), a lad who has led a rather aimless life since his college graduation. Although he looks like a good son happy to work at his mother’s workplace and his relationship with his father seems fairly good, we come to learn that he had an addiction problem in the past, and we are not so surprised when Helene happens to learn that he has been tumbled into another kind of vice.
Meanwhile, Anders inadvertently gets involved with an adolescent boy named Charlie (Charlie Tahan), who is the son of a couple who has been close to Helene for many years. During their accidental encounter during an evening party held at Charlie’s home, he comes to share a drug along with Charlie, and that leads to a small amusing moment involved with a turtle belonging to Charlie. After Charlie is hurriedly taken to a hospital due to a serious incident of overdose, Anders shows some care and concern through visiting him at the hospital, and Charlie certainly appreciates that.
Deftly going back and forth between comedy and drama, the adapted screenplay by Nicole Holofcener, which is adapted from the novel of the same name by Ted Thompson, steadily rolls its main characters along its leisurely narrative, and we get a number of nice little moments to enjoy for considerable humor and sensitivity. While we often get laughs from how lousy Anders is to people around him, we also come to understand his confusion and frustration, and he eventually comes to us as a flawed but engaging individual to observe.
I must point out that Anders is still your average white guy in mid-life crisis, but Holofcener’s smart, sensitive writing imbues its hero with life and personality, and Mendelsohn gives a fabulous performance to cherish for nuanced touches and effortless coming timing. Ably balancing his performance among different modes, he shows another side of his immense talent here in this film, and I especially like a certain scene later in the story where his character unintentionally causes a very awkward circumstance among him and other characters. He surely feels sorry, so he tries to do his best for making the situation less uncomfortable, but, alas, things do not go well in the end.
The other main performers surrounding Mendelsohn are competent on the whole, though some of them are not utilized well because of their underdeveloped characters. While Eddie Falco, who has diligently advanced since her memorable performance in TV series “The Sopranos”, is direct and straightforward as Ander’s no-nonsense ex-wife, Bill Camp, a character actor who has recently been more notable since his acclaimed supporting performance in HBO miniseries “The Night Of”, is interesting to watch as usual, and Thomas Mann, Charlie Tahan, Elizabeth Marvel, Michael Gaston, Josh Pais, and Connie Britton are also effective in their small respective supporting roles, though Britton, who drew my attention for the first time via TV series “American Horror Story”, is seriously under-utilized in her thankless role.
As shown from two previous films “Please Give” (2010) and “Enough Said” (2013), Holofcener is a good director who knows how to establish and then develop story and characters, and “The Land of Steady Habits” confirms to me again that she is indeed one of interesting American filmmakers to watch. Although the movie is not without flaws and I still think its ending is a little too abrupt, I was entertained by storytelling and performance, and I can assure you that it is one of better movies from Netflix.