The Land of Steady Habits
It doesn’t feel quite right to call what writer-director Nicole Holofocener does cringe comedy; she’s too subtle and melancholy for that. Maybe discomfort dramedy is better?
The people in her movies are mostly very lucky: They have nice clothes, expensive degrees, unlimited access to Bed Bath & Beyond. But they’re hardly ever happy. Instead, all that knowledge and boat-shaped soap has left them anxious and angry and alienated from their own lives.
If you’ve seen Enough Said or Friends With Money or Lovely and Amazing, you’re already halfway to knowing a character like Anders Hill (Ben Mendelsohn) — a wolfishly handsome man somewhere near 50 who, in a fit of bravery or just middle-aged pique, has abruptly quit his decades-long marriage and his cushy finance job.
But instead of freedom, all he finds on the other side is a sad divorced-dad condo, a few awkward one-night stands, and a vague sort of semi-pariah status in his wealthy Connecticut commuter town. His ex-wife, Helene (Edie Falco), has already moved on; his 27-year-old son, Preston (Thomas Mann), is quietly flunking out of young adulthood; and his old friends are either busy doing what he used to do, or trying to fill their own empty days with Asian Fusion cooking classes and lap dances at the local strip club.
So Anders goes out and finds his own trouble — getting high out of decorative gourds with teenage burnout Charlie (Charlie Tahan); drunkenly breaking into the house that doesn’t belong to him anymore, and tentatively romancing fellow divorcée Barbara (Connie Britton, underused but great in her few scenes).
For a while, the movie seems destined to be nothing more than a running catalog of Anders’ missteps; the Land of Small Humiliations. Still, as the tone wobbles between absurdity and tragedy, it also starts to shift toward something deeper and more bittersweet than mere midlife ennui. A lot of that is down to Mendelsohn, an actor who seems born to embody Holofocener’s kind of hero: weary and wounded but still putting it out there, a beautiful mess in progress. B