My Favorite Movies – The Land of Steady Habits (2018)

18 May

By Tanner Smith

This Netflix Original film didn’t make my year-end list for 2018–it wasn’t even in my honorable mentions. I liked it when I saw it…I didn’t think I’d be watching it about 10 more times in the following two years or so.

But it’s great–better to realize it late than never.

“The Land of Steady Habits” was written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, who specializes in slice-of-life dramedies such as “Walking and Talking,” “Please Give,” and “Enough Said.” (She also co-wrote Can You Ever Forgive Me? and directed a couple great episodes of “Parks and Recreation.”) As much as I like “Enough Said,” about which I’ll probably have a post in the future, “The Land of Steady Habits” might be her best work.

MIGHT be. (Her debut film “Walking and Talking” gets better each time I see it.)

Ben Mendelsohn stars as Anders, a former Wall Street trader who has no idea what he wants out of life anymore except not to do the things he’s used to. He divorces his wife Helene (Edie Falco) and goes into early retirement–and he left her their house as what he sees as a generous gesture…even though he’s not paying the mortgage anymore.

Anders is full of sh*t. And that’s the point–he represents the type of flawed individual who doesn’t possess the disciplinal nature that causes them to act selflessly. As the film continues, we go from getting angry at this tool to empathizing with him as his humanity surfaces further. Oh, and he’s also still very much enamored with his ex-wife and shows up to parties where she might be…and where old friends would rather he just disappear. But also, Helene also has a new boyfriend. (He’s played by Bill Camp, one of the best character actors working today, as evidenced by his appearances in “Wildlife,” Love & Mercy, Midnight Special, and a whole bunch of other films from the past few years.) But Anders soon meets Barbara (Connie Britton), a single mother with the sharp wit and equally unorthodox demeanor that just might be what Anders needs right now. Many of the other characters in this film are also full of sh*t–this includes Anders and Helene’s 20something-year-old son Preston (Thomas Mann), a former drug addict who still lives with his mother, takes a job as a reading teacher (a job his mother got him), and has no aspirations in life. (Anders sometimes has to play the “tough-love” card on him, even though he’s not really one to talk.) There’s also Sophie & Mitchell Ashford (Elizabeth Marvel and Michael Gaston), who seem to be going through the same thing with their drug-addict teenage son Charlie (Charlie Tahan) that Anders and Helene went though with Preston but would rather pretend there’s nothing wrong unless it best suits them. (Shades of Ordinary People here.)

All of the actors are fantastic here, but the one that impressed me the most was Charlie Tahan, who has a small but pivotal role in this film. He was great as the troubled teenage killer in Super Dark Times; here, he’s not violent, but he’s still very much troubled. Also, his story of how he uses art as a form of escapism is truly moving–I’ve seen this story aspect many times in other movies, but it takes the right character, the right dialogue, and the right delivery to truly sell it. His interactions with Anders, with whom he often gets high (once on PCP!), are wonderfully handled as well, and Mendelsohn is a great foil for Tahan. (Charlie Tahan is one of my favorite young actors working today–I should check out “Ozark” now, shouldn’t I?)

Obviously, at age 28, I’m not old enough to know enough people like Anders to say “The Land of Steady Habits” is totally accurate–but it does FEEL real, other critics have used their own personal experiences to relate to it, and I did know plenty of people like Preston and Charlie. (…I still know those people, actually–hell, I even see a little bit of myself in Preston.)

Why is it one of my new favorites? I think it’s just the spirit of it–the droll, sardonic, cynical spirit of it all. Or maybe I see it as a cautionary tale about what could happen to me if I don’t take what I learned in school or from my parents and put it all to good use in adulthood. Or maybe I just see it as a way of feeling comfortable whenever I inevitably screw up, because that’s just what happens, whether I intend to or not.

Either way…”The Land of Steady Habits” speaks to me.

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