Writer & Director: Nicole Holofcener
If you’re thinking about moving to the suburbs but would like to be convinced otherwise, I recommend streaming The Land of Steady Habits immediately. With the exception of a divorcee played by Connie Britton, the characters in this movie are all low-key unhappy as they try to make the best of their affluence. Adapted from Ted Thompson’s novel by the same name, it follows the midlife crisis of Anders, a fifty-something guy who is attempting to forge a new life for himself after divorcing his wife and quitting his lucrative job. The film opens with the screenshot above: Anders trying to choose towels for his new single-guy condo. It’s a striking image that shows both the state of Anders emotional life (bewildered, overwhelmed) and the soul-numbing indecision brought on by big box stores. Maybe it also hints at the extraordinary class divide, where a small percentage of Americans have an endless array of meaningless choices while a huge percentage have no choice but to get by.
Unfortunately, the opening frames are the best thing about this movie, which never really gets going. I haven’t read the novel that it’s based upon, but it seemed to me that a lot of the thematic elements that probably worked well in prose just didn’t adapt well to cinema. For instance, there was a pet turtle, which I think was probably very poignant on paper, but was visually inert on screen. (Turtles don’t move much.) Much of the dialogue was excellent — life-like and really funny — but the scenes themselves lacked dramatic tension. Most problematic was the tragedy that came in the third act. Not only was I unprepared for it, I didn’t feel moved by it — but I suspect it might have worked well in the book.
I’m surprised I didn’t like this movie more because I’ve loved director Nicole Holofcener’s other features, especially her most recent film, Enough Said. This is Holofcener’s first time adapting a novel — her movies are usually original screenplays — so maybe the material suffered from the adaptation process. Still, this was a good character study of a man in crisis, and Ben Mendelsohn kept things interesting, playing Anders as a man struggling to appreciate his newfound freedom.