Praise the Lord, Netflix has gotten into the Nicole Holofcener business!
One of the cinema’s most independent, distinctly quirky, distinctly feminine voices should be right at home on the streaming network, where fans will have time to find her work — lots and lots of time.
Holofcener makes movies for adults about adults with adult problems, real or imagined. The director of “Friends with Money” and “Lovely and Amazing” and “Please Give” writes sparkling dialogue and created great parts for her muse, Catherine Keener and career-changing opportunities for Jennifer Aniston and Julia Louis Dreyfus as well.
“The Life of Steady Habits” gives Hollywood’s heavy of the moment, Ben Mendelsohn (“Rogue One,” “Ready Player One”) a chance to play the guy who gets the girl.
OK, “girls.” Women. Anders Hill is retired, newly single and spending a lot of time picking up women in home decor stores in the film’s opening. Holofcener sets her films in real world situations in a real world. The first scene is in Bed, Bath and Beyond, and it doesn’t get more real than that.
Edie Falco plays his ex, and her blurting out “God, I hate these f—–g SPANX” is pretty real world, too.
Anders used to be in finance and used to be married. Now he’s adrift, and so is his son (Thomas Mann). Out of college, out of rehab, Preston is living with his mother, trying to set a personal record for days not screwing something up — a job, his life.
And the sad thing is his dad is going through exactly the same thing. Anders gets blitzed at a party thrown by family friends “I can’t stand.” How? He lights up with the kids gathered around Charlie (Charlie Tahan of “Ozark”).
“Oh, I feel joyful, oh soooo joyful. And SAD, too. Jesus! This is some serious grass!”
It’s PCP, actually. Because Charlie, sweet and whimsical as he is, has a problem. He’s a younger version of Preston, gutting his future at an even earlier age than Preston did.
Anders is six months divorced and trying not to tell his ex that he hasn’t been paying the mortgage because “I can’t afford to retire AND pay for the mortgage.”
It’s the holidays and he’s making one mistake after another, like getting drunk and raiding his old homestead for photo albums, etc. — breaking in to do it. ‘
Helene (Falco) has taken up with a new guy, and Anders can’t get his head around it. They used to be friends.
She tells him, “It’s not my job, anymore, baby sitting you.”
But somebody should be. Drifting from bed to bed, maybe he’ll recognize quality when he stumbles across her in the strip club (Connie Britton, killing it as a brittle but hopeful divorcee).
The stoner Charlie ODs, and Anders brings him a book of Japanese erotica in the hospital — one he stole from the library. Bad choice after bad choice.
Holofcener scripts these marvelous, intimate conversations — men debating the value of a house one doesn’t want to sell, women “mothering” each other’s adult kids, kids confiding to a friend of their parents what they hate about those parents, pillow talk confessions about “the final straw” in a divorce.
No, that’s not necessary. REALLY.
“No no no no. It’s RIDICULOUS.”
Mendelsohn, a great character actor, has unforced, natural and funny scenes with everybody, delicious moments with Falco, Mann, Tahan, Britton and Everyman Character Actor Camp.
She’s seeing you? “I don’t GET it!”
Little grace notes abound — home movies, a holidays “tip” envelope that holds a picture of a mother and son in happier times, in-depth consideration of the little dog the Russian/Soviet space program pointlessly murdered in the late 1950s, Charlie’s “clubhouse” where he hides out from his parents — their sailing yacht, covered in a boatyard, all the comforts of home — and later, a flare is set off, a kid in distress finally giving that away.
Everybody, especially Mendelsohn, revels in those grace notes and hits the punchlines and reveal little profundities as they figure out their failings and try to be funny about it.
“You have kids?”
“Yeah, a boy. Well, a man now, really. You?”
Whatever the shifting business model of indie film has done to Holofcener’s career, it’s great that she gets this new lease on life from a streaming service.
Wherever else Netflix is spending its millions on product, “The Land of Steady Habits” demonstrates that Nicole Holofcener is their safest gamble, a smart lady making smart movies that her fans, and new converts, will have a chance to find.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, drug abuse, sex, profanity, violence
Cast: Ben Mendelsohn, Edie Falco, Thomas Mann, Charlie Tahan, Connie Britton, Bill Camp
Credits: Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, based on a Ted Thompson novel. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:38