In the world that Nicole Holofcener paints, women hold the power and the issues that power cause: conflicts, repercussions, and so forth. She doesn’t shy away from social friction in the daily life of womanhood. We see this in many of her films: Enough Said and the clumsiness in dating within your own circle of friends and acquaintances, the emotional endeavour that families go through in Lovely & Amazing, and of course Friends With Money and how the class difference in your surrounding causes insecurity and envy. This is one of Holofcener’s many qualities that she brings out into the world of American cinema. By mixing the comical aspect of surviving with the midlife crisis, she is able to pinpoint the deepest desires in every human being. She does it with an easiness and relatability that mirrors our luxurious aspiration in life.
In The Land of Steady Habits, she studies the life of a man in the midst of a crisis. Ben Mendelsohn stars as Anders, a middle-aged individual veering through the struggle of divorce, retirement, and losing the hegemony of parenting. Distancing himself from his ex-wife Helene (Edie Falco) and his son Preston (Thomas Mann) didn’t do much justice to his newfound freedom. The first shot of the film already captures the confusion of his life now, as he saunters through what looks like Bed, Bath, and Beyond on a shopping spree. Stacks of colorful towels intimidate him somehow. What he wants is to be in charge of the search for his own happiness, which is okay. But for him, this comes with consequences – emotional baggage, a fully realized sense of emptiness, and series of impotency. The tedious tasks of being a divorcee, like decorating his own place, now seems like a chore – a departure to what he thought he wanted, of what he dreamt of before.
His new life stirs up the people in his town and within his own orbit. In the suburbs, where he lives, the town is currently changing. Yet somehow, it is still the same. The town has its way of entangling people’s lives, just like any other suburban culture. They strive on community as their way to remain alive. Anders and Helene are struggling to encourage Preston to start his new life after graduation and rehab. They are worried about their son’s lack of enthusiasm and dependence towards them. At the same time, however, they want to protect Preston from the unknown.
Another fascinating thing about Holofcener’s films is that she aligns the peak of conflict of her characters and stories through little quirks. When Anders has finally accepted his isolation, he goes to a strip club with a friend and stumbles into a woman named Barbara (Connie Britton) in the men’s toilet. As his romantic interest, Holofcener still designs their relationship over the things that make them divorce their ex-spouses. Anders tells how a fight over a little oven emerges his marital life, whereas Barbara shares tales about her hatred of her ex’s chewing. These mundane peculiarities that we all have are the things that sometimes drive your partner crazy. Holofcener is excellent in imprinting all these tiny, enriching details in her characters.
Guilt plays a substantial part in conducting this film and the characters. Anders is paying for the cost of reparation, and he still fails at that. Helene is trying to encourage Preston by coddling him; giving him a job in her place of work, but this attempt blows up in her face. Guilt encompasses this family, as if there’s an incomplete period of time in the past that is worth discussion.
This story is a tale as old as time, and many filmmakers have had their share of serving this kind of narrative justice. Some succeeded, some failed. Holofcener is able to shape this chain of events not as a presentation of aftermath, but rather as a contemplation for people to make amends. To show that people fail, people self-destruct, and people absolutely deserve another chance. This analysis mimics the ending of Enough Said and it is truly a catharsis to witness.
While watching this film, I myself have been in a crisis, where I have been trying to unlearn and remove myself from the situation that Anders is getting into in the film. Where vacantness is my only companion, and I’m inches away from a complete nervous breakdown. From this film, I begin to erase the fogginess that blurs my understanding of letting go and still fulfilling the responsibility that comes from it. I begin to remember that only I can pull myself out from my postponement of living life. The world keeps reminding me that the goal that I have set for myself is there, and it will still be there when I want to heal at any given moment.
The ending of The Land of Steady Habits revives a hope that we all secretly want in our lives. In the end, we yearn to find ourselves in a similar situation as the people in the film – one where the world is finally reasonable enough for you to live in.