Lively jingles and booming bells usually set the mood for movies unfolding against the backdrop of winter festivities, but writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s darkly comic examination of a shattered family in crisis at Christmas isn’t your typical holiday outing. So, it’s appropriate that Migos’ 2016 rap smash “Bad and Boujee” helped set the emotional tone for the film’s on-screen father-son duo.
“We bonded over a lot of hip-hop music,” Thomas Mann — who stars as the troubled son of Anders, a prematurely retired, recently divorced finance professional played by Ben Mendelsohn — tells EW of how he fostered a familial bond with the Australian actor. “Ben has this little portable speaker so he’d come to set with that in-hand and we’d dance around…. This was the era of ‘Bad and Boujee,’ and that was our go-to song.”
When the cameras rolled, however, the pair had to suck the fun out of those moments as Anders’ journey drifts deeper into questionable territory. While his relationship with his son frays, Anders befriends a drug-addicted teen for kicks and courts women for mindless sex between relishing in the resentment he feels for his ex-wife’s (Edie Falco) newfound happiness on a rocky quest to find solace amid the bitter destruction of his life.
Still, “there was a kind of family dynamic going on on the set,” Mendelsohn remembers. “The good thing about Nicole being in charge of this family is, you kind of knew whenever the dinner conversation started going the wrong way, you were going to get put right back on track. I don’t think anyone gets the subtlety and the tone of people quite the way Nicole does and I just dig that flavor.”
Mann adds that there was “a lot of the time spent talking and hanging out” in Mendelsohn’s trailer, which sometimes meant “not talking hanging out in his trailer. But I think that’s more important when you’re with family members: You spend a lot of your time not talking to each other, but just being there together.”
Holofcener, here directing her first feature since 2013’s Enough Said, was attracted to adapting Ted Thompson’s novel of the same for its treatment of complex issues of kinship contrasted with an otherwise jovial setting.
“It’s like a reminder to call your parents. A reminder to call your children, big time…. I think the movie is about middle age and parenting and how hard it is to be a parent when you’re a seriously damaged adult. I think it’s really emotional and also funny and very human, and you follow the path of this troubled man trying to do things well and he does them very badly and hurts a lot of people in the end,” Holofcener explains. “I was drawn to the novel [because] this was so not my world, yet it was people that I could relate to, that and what the story was about really resonated with me.”
The Land of Steady Habits is now streaming on Netflix. Watch EW’s interview with Holofcener, Mendelsohn, and Mann above.