SUNDANCE 2021: ‘Land’ is on Explored, but Solid Ground

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Land Sundance

Films like Land are earmarked for festival participation and awards consideration at birth. It’s the classic formula of “Well Liked Star Makes Directorial Debut with Introspective Adaptation.” Land is nothing if not loyal to its own stereotype. Don’t get me wrong, I love a tragic journey of self-discovery as much as the next critic and I’m partial to a feel-good ending. Land is a solid, but not terribly original version of these types of stories.

In Land, Edee, a lawyer that has just suffered a great tragedy loses the ability to connect with people and retreats to a remote mountain cabin to disappear. It is difficult to know whether Edee has gone out in search of a fresh start or a peaceful place to wait for death, but she is woefully unprepared for the hardships of surviving in the mountains. After a close brush with death, Edee is rescued by a local hunter and his family. Through her friendship with the hunter, Edee learns to fend for herself, to rebuild her resolve, and to appreciate life once again.

Land is the directorial debut of everyone’s favorite actress Robin Wright, who also stars in the film. Performance-wise Wright gives a restrained and elegant performance as Edee. She plays the character quietly, allowing Edee to bloom into warmth as the film progresses. In a way, it’s evocative of Robert Redford’s performance in Jeremiah Johnson (fitting for Sundance). The character of Edee spends a great deal of the film in contemplative silence and solitude, and audiences are only slowly let in, as the character thaws. It’s the right approach to this sort of role and Wright carries it off well.

From the directing perspective, Land is a competent debut from Robin Wright. The film is breezy and enjoyable, with a tight 90-minute runtime that is a reprieve to viewers entering the midway point of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. While Wright demonstrates good instincts, there’s very little personality in Land. The film is difficult to place because it’s a familiar narrative that is executed well but not necessarily executed with a style that belongs distinctly to Wright.

The greatest flaw of Land is that it’s so basic. Of course, audiences are treated to the age-old thrills of woman versus nature, losing the self to rediscover the self, and the warm fuzzies of an Eat, Pray, Love-esque exploration of what really matters in life. It’s a narrative that’s popular for a reason. It has emotional depth and triumphs and risks readily built-in. Land is a beauty, using the full tapestry of Mother Nature and her seasonal splendors to full effect. The tune is familiar, but there’s comfort in knowing all the steps and seeing it performed well.

Land is a solid, back-to-basics tale of appreciating life and overcoming a broken spirit. Wright is a heroine that is easy to see yourself reflected in and, in her debut, she brings forth a film that is steadfast and lovely. What it lacks in originality, it makes up for in hitting the beats that audiences love.

Land premiered on January 31 at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

Rating: 6/10