The Land of Steady Habits Movie Review: A Compelling, Humanistic Character Drama

Much like Enough Said, director Nicole Holofcener’s last film, The Land of Steady Habits is a poignant telling of a person going through a midlife crisis. However, while Enough Said was a romantic comedy, The Land of Steady Habits is a seriocomical ensemble piece about how growing up is different from growing old.

At the center of the film’s ensemble is Anders Hill (Ben Mendelsohn), a divorced financier who decides to leave behind his career that he’s become disillusioned with and try to restart his life. In the meantime, he tries to maintain his relationship with his college graduate son Preston (Thomas Mann) who’s trying to straighten out his life as well after a stint in rehab. Adding to Anders’ struggle is the fact that he ends up starting a slight quarrel with his ex-wife Helene (Edie Falco). All of it takes place while Anders starts hanging with a troubled pot-smoking youth named Charlie (Charlie Tahan).

Even though Anders tries to do the right thing for those around him, he tends to exhibit a childlike stubbornness. But thanks to the whimsical charms of Ben Mendelsohn, Anders is able to be someone worth rooting for. Typically, “charming” is not the first word that comes to mind when one thinks of Ben Mendelsohn because whenever audiences see him nowadays, they’re usually intimidated by his presence whether it’d be in films like Ready Player One or Animal Kingdom. But thankfully, he’s able to demonstrate his rather breezy charisma that Hollywood rarely taps into.

Mendelsohn also has an incredible cast surrounding him. Names like Edie Falco, Thomas Mann, Bill Camp, Elizabeth Marvel, and Charlie Tahan are able to come alive in their respective roles despite Ben Mendelsohn being the main focal point. Connie Britton also has a small role as Barbara, a divorced mother that Anders falls for and even though she isn’t on screen much, she and Mendelsohn have enlightening chemistry. Also, the lead up to the consummation of their relationship is handled rather meticulously.

Early on, it becomes established that Anders is a bit of a womanizer since he has sex with strange women that he meets while shopping. But when he doesn’t immediately sleep with Barbara after meeting her at the store, that becomes a hint that something more substantial will develop between them.

Much of that hinting lies in the well-crafted screenplay by Nicole Holofcener who constructs Anders’ repetitive routine as a way to demonstrate why he’s motivated to try and feel younger than he is. While Anders may be content with his quaint life outside the big city, he still yearns to maintain his adventurous side which is why he hangs with Charlie, eventually becoming a surrogate father to him. Also, the script puts great emphasis on the lives of those connected to Anders as well to show how the decisions he tends to make affect those around him.

The storyline involving Anders and Charlie might not be the film’s main focus but it still perfectly represents the need to feel younger than you are. As it turns out, growing up is hard no matter how old you may be. But as the film shows, it’s never too late to restart your life. Even if it isn’t easy to do so, you can always try to start fresh.

Thanks to its humanistic acting and carefully constructed writing, The Land of Steady Habits is a poignant depiction of a man trying to find a new lease on life that is both heartening and heart wrenching.

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Matthew St.Clair

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