The Land of Steady Habits – Netflix movie review: “a well-observed satire of middle-class ennui”

Ben Mendelsohn plays a man adrift, in this "small, sad story" from writer/director Nicole Holofcener

The Land of Steady Habits; Netflix; JH

★★★

New York writer/director Nicole Holofcener has built an impressively focused body of work since her 1996 debut, Walking and Talking, getting sardonically under the skin of contemporary women as they deal with sex, relationships, age and family.

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Her sixth film (and first for Netflix), is, uniquely for her, an adaptation of a novel (by Ted Thompson) and concerns a man. Recently divorced, prematurely retired financier Anders Harris (played with soft, hapless appeal by Ben Mendelsohn) is adrift in a new build in a well-to-do Connecticut suburb, where mechanical sexual liaisons and social events he’s not really invited to emphasise the stability he’s left behind – specifically, practical ex-wife Helene (Edie Falco, minus the sharp edges of Carmela Soprano).

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What is essentially a well-observed satire of middle-class ennui is lent narrative weight by the fates of two young addicts: Anders and Helene’s recovering-alcoholic son Preston (Thomas Mann); and Charlie (Charlie Tahan), son of Helene’s self-medicating best friend (Elizabeth Marvel). And it’s the bored Anders who intervenes, with unexpected results.

Holofcener is right to call it “a sad, small story,” as beyond the warm performances the constant thrum of moneyed self-indulgence occasionally palls, with the symbolically unwanted pet turtle being passed around perhaps one metaphor too many.

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The Land of Steady Habits is on Netflix