These days, a film can be screened at film festivals galore. But not so if you wish to pay to see it in a theater, after its official “opening.” This directly mirrors the business of show business, 2018-style. Clearly, a film will earn more dollars if it arrives directly on Netflix or in a similar non-theatrical venue. This certainly is the case if the film in question is more about issues and feelings, rather than teen-oriented coming-of-age tales or violence-oriented actioners.
Take for example THE LAND OF STEADY HABITS, the latest from writer-director Nicole Holofcener. Given its story line, one cannot imagine moviegoers of any age lining up and shelling out big bucks to see it in movie houses. Its central character is Anders, played by Ben Mendelsohn: a middle-class 21st-century American who is drowning in his middle age. A sadness, a loneliness, looms over him. He is long-divorced, and life for him is nothing more than endless, pointless working and commuting. He really has no close friends, and he is interested in connecting more with young people than with any of his peers. So to him, the word “happy” is nonexistent. The story is set at Christmastime, yet there is nothing merry about any aspect of Anders’ life.
THE LAND OF STEADY HABITS is like other Nicole Holofcener films in that it offers portraits of individuals who are not fundamentally evil but who still are psychologically damaged and helpless. The bottom line is that it is not the kind of film that will draw in masses of viewers on a Saturday night at the mall, or even the art house. So it is understandable that THE LAND OF STEADY HABITS comes straight to Netflix. It was screened on Netflix literally two days after playing the Toronto International Film Festival.
Plus, THE LAND OF STEADY HABITS is not Holofcener’s best film. Far from it. Far more preferable are two of his more recent titles: ENOUGH SAID, from 2013, and PLEASE GIVE, released in 2010. By the way, ENOUGH SAID is proof positive that the late James Gandolfini was not only capable of playing Tony Soprano. (In a trivia note, Edie Falco, also of THE SOPRANOS fame, appears here as Anders’ ex-wife.) But the bottom line is that THE LAND OF STEADY HABITS is not the kind of film that will be a must-see at the local mall, or even the local art house. So there it is, heading straight from the festival circuit to the home video venue.
Rob Edelman teaches film history courses at the University at Albany. He has contributed to many arts and baseball-related publications; his latest book, which he co-edited, is From Spring Training To Screen Test: Baseball Players Turned Actors. His frequent collaborator is his wife, fellow WAMC film commentator Audrey Kupferberg.
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