Ben Mendelsohn is use to playing villains. In the Netflix original film, The Land of Steady Habits (the title refers to the unofficial motto for the state of Connecticut) Mendelsohn plays a different bad guy: a disaffected middle age man who suddenly divorces his wife and quits his soul smothering job and instead of finding liberation finds even more aimlessness and purposelessness.
Mendelsohn’s character is sort of a jerk, a jerk with notable grace notes of kindness and painful insight, in other words a recognizable fool of a human being like the rest of us. These are the same characteristics he sees in his son and tries to save him from to no avail— and to a certain extent he sees it in the rest of the world.
This flawed Jesus trying to save the world from his own bad choices drives the plot and provides all the comedy and irony in The Land of Steady Habits. The bad steady habits of drugs, sex, alcohol and impulsive consumerism are designed to dull the existential pain but also heighten the unhappiness, catching him and his son in a vicious cycle. As the world blithely moves on, the two are unable to let it go.
The director Nicole Holofcener has made a frustrating film to watch. Mendelsohn’s character is a character who can’t stop his selfishness, isn’t capable of being a good spouse, parent or friend and who realizes it and becomes degraded in his eyes because of it.
Holofcener has made a flawed film about a flawed and sad man unable to find his stature.