A Realistically Depicted But Ultimately Unfulfilling Familial Drama
The Land Of Steady Habits is one of those films you’ll either love or hate. With a lack of likeable characters to get behind and a story void of compelling plotting, the film works much better as a passive character examination of what it means to be truly happy. Sloppy editing and a lack of closure to some plot points at the end does hold this back from being a better film and combined with its polarizing set-up make The Land Of Steady Habits a difficult film to recommend to mainstream audiences.
The story revolves around middle-aged retiree Anders Hill (Ben Mendelsohn). Discontent with his white-picket-fence idealistic family life, he decides to split from his wife Helene (Edie Falco) in search of true happiness. In a touch of cruel irony, Anders winds up more depressed than he was before while his wife lands on her feet, shacking up with Anders’ old work colleague. Caught in the middle of this messy split are two teenagers, Charlie (Charlie Tahan) and Anders’ son Preston (Thomas Mann) and it’s here where the heart of the story lies. The former finds solace in Anders, sharing in his depressive state of mind as Charlie’s parents prepare to send him to rehab for his drug addiction. Preston is a far more interesting character, damaged by his parents’ bickering and messy breakup with Anders’ desire to try to connect with his son the only resolved plot line in this messy family drama.
The lack of conclusive answers and a plot that dances its way from one meaningless interaction to the next is both the strongest and weakest part of the film. On the one hand, the realistically depicted dialogue and awkward bites of silence combined with characters stumbling through life with no direction really resonate and echo the same sort of moments found in day-to-day life. The trouble is, those looking for a more artistic or powerful way of showcasing depression will be left wanting. When you compare this to a film like Manchester By The Sea or Forgetting Sarah Marshall that tackle depression and break-ups, this just cannot compare. The Land Of Steady Habits feels resolute in plodding along with its numerous character-driven plots, defiantly refusing to help us empathise with any of these characters, despite an impressive performance from Ben Mendelsohn who just about does enough here.
We mentioned it earlier but the editing in this film is a little sloppy too. Harsh edits from one scene to the next leave us scrambling to catch up and late on there are some really subjective shots that feel confusing and jarring. We won’t divulge what these are for spoilers sake but suffice to say, a little explanation would not have gone amiss here. The musical score is generally decent though, subtly picking up during the dramatic moments and there are a few bursts of raw emotion that are easily the stand out moments of the film. Hearing Anders talk about how he feels like a nuisance to his son and asking rhetorical questions about his wife with a tinge of regret in his voice while a subtle piano-driven score picks up really helps to flesh his character out and give a tiny semblance of connection with audiences. Aside from this and one or two moments with Preston, the film lacks a compelling angle for many of the characters making this a much more passive, emotionless affair than it perhaps should be.
There’s certainly potential here and with a more refined script, tighter editing and a slight character adjustment, The Land Of Steady Habits could easily be one of the better familial dramas released this year. The cynical bites of dark humour are well placed and Anders’ relationship with his son and Charlie are easily the stand out moments but there’s just far too much passiveness with the film to really make it a drama worth recommending.