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USA 2018
Directed by
Nicole Holofcener
98 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Land Of Steady Habits

Ben Mendelsohn has come a long way since the days of Idiot Box when his stock-in-trade was the Ocker larrikin.  In writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s The Land of Steady Habits he effectively carries the weight of the film as Anders Hill a fifty-something in hte middle of a mid-life crisis. Anders has thrown in his lucrative job in the finance sector and divorced his wife Helene (Edie Falco) in an attempt to renew his life. His problem is that now he doesn’t know what to do with himself and, so hangs around the familiar purlieus of his former stockbroker belt home in Westport, Connecticut making a nuisance of himself to Helene who, ironically, has moved on to a sort-of new beau (Bill Camp). He also tries to connect with his adult son, Preston (Thomas Mann) who is equally at a loss about what to do with his life but has little sympathy for Anders' self-inflicted woes.

The film opens brilliantly with Anders in a upscale homewares store gazing blankly at the ceiling to floor shelves of colour-graded bath towels then wandering around vaguely looking for items to decorate the new townhouse (which Americans apparently call “condos”) into which he has just moved before havin a sexual encounter with a random woman he meets in the store.

Although Holofcener‘s script uses conversations between charactres to articulate some of the issues the film deals with such as when Anders tells his friend how life is like a spider's web, this kind of visual semantics is a winning feature of the film.

The narrative engine of the film is Anders’ relationship  with Charlie (Charlie Tahan), the son of family friends, Mitchell (Michael Gaston) and Sophie (Elizabeth Marvel). Unlike Preston, Charlie responds to Anders' rudderless state. Anders in turn befriends the young man without fully considering the consequences and his responsibilities. The result is tragic.

Although the support cast are all strong Mendelsohn does the heavy lifting here but does so quietly and empathetically and Holofcener never pushes him to melodramatics. My only issue is that Anders who supposedly has not been able to pay the mortgage on the family home for six months drives a late model Mercedes and always has plenty of cash to splash around.  It’s a small point but it affects how we respond to Anders as an emblem of the human condition.

FYI: For related subject matter see Ang Lee’s marvellous treatment of middle-class angst, The Ice Storm (1997).




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