“The Land of Steady Habits” opens with a mundane yet vaguely terrifying and seemingly endless supply of bath towels. And kitchen supplies. And toothbrush holders. All things that should mark a quintessential, white-picket-fence life in suburbia. Instead, there’s barely a shadow of this lifestyle and, in its place, are the scattered remains of a financial shark’s attempt to go rogue. Though interesting in theory, “The Land of Steady Habits” never reaches a climax and remains a flat telling of rich white people and their problems.
In short, Netflix’s new family drama tackles the idea that the grass is always greener on the other side. Ben Mendelsohn (“Ready Player One”) has the air of a man who was, in his youth, a catch. This vibe perfectly matches that of his character, Anders, who gave up his family and job only to realize that not having a steady income can have a serious impact on a life rooted in an affluent Connecticut town.
The most appealing part of this movie is the lack of in-your-face drama: Anders has already left his outwardly ideal life and the small community has adjusted to the split of one of its more prominent couples. The drama that does occur is tinged with the subtle tension of a rich white suburb that, rather than talking about their problems, ignores them with alcohol and drugs. The screaming matches that do occur are after someone pops a Xanax or one glass of red wine too many. The cutthroat nature of suburban parents whose reputation is at stake fosters the kind of crisis that makes “The Land of Steady Habits” such a compelling, and almost laughable, movie to watch.
While the movie has its fair share of surface-level drama that’s expected when teenagers are doing drugs and parents are too involved with their own lives to care, “The Land of Steady Habits” also follows the tumultuous experience of being a parent. From listening to my parents talk about their peers to hearing new ones discuss the ever-evolving pressures, parenthood seems like a balancing act that no one has mastered. Worry too much and your kid might become distant and rebellious, care too little and the exact same thing can happen. The redemption arc that follows after Anders has a drug-induced epiphany about his relationship with his son Preston (Thomas Mann, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”) sends a compassionate message, that no matter how much we mess up there’s always going to be some way to fix the issue and get back the important things in your life.
“Steady Habits” further pushes this message with all the parallels between Mendelsohn and Mann’s characters. Both Anders and Preston have stalled in their life, with Anders still hung up on his ex-wife and Preston living with his mother at 27 with barely any job prospects. They both fool around in their lives: Preston with gambling and Anders with women, and when they realize their lives haven’t met their expectations both turn to alcohol. It takes the death of the endearing Charlie Ashford (Charlie Tahan, “I Am Legend”) to jar both of them from their stupors and propel them forward in their lives. Charlie, dead before his life even started, is what Preston could have been had his parents cared a little less and forces Anders to really consider how much he loves his wife and son and what he needs to do to regain their favor.
Though supposedly living in a land of steady habits, it’s obvious that whatever these people are, they aren’t steady and it really shouldn’t be any other way. The movie ends with the cliché but inspiring message that there’s still time for redemption, whether you’re 27 getting off your parents’ couch or 60-something and starting a new life with a pet turtle.