Sundance 2021: ‘Land’ Review

Editor-in-chief Pihla Pekkarinen expresses disappointment in Robin Wright’s inspirational drama.

Land had the luck to be this year’s obligatory high-budget Focus Features film premiering at Sundance. These films, whilst never the star of the festival, usually garner a fair bit of attention and positive reviews. In particular, Focus Features is a major distributor of generally successful, ‘quirky’, Oscar-darling independent movies, to the extent that their short intro tends to be a fairly reliable indicator of a decent film. Unfortunately, despite all this, Land falls flat on its face.

Now, I feel I have to preface this by saying I’ve been lucky enough to never have suffered any great loss in my life. But watching this film, it seemed clear that neither have any of the writers, nor director-star Robin Wright. This film has been made a million times before. Privileged woman (Edee, played by Wright) is unable to come to terms with her past, escaping from society and those around her, until a benevolent stranger (Miguel, played by Demián Bichir) decides for some reason to put up with her tantrums long enough for her to become a bearable human being. And so, they dance about in the forest for around 45 minutes, and the proximity to nature (brought thanklessly to her by people of colour) brings her healing.  

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It’s almost unbelievably difficult to have sympathy for the main character. It feels like the film keeps having to remind us of her tremendous loss in order to get us to stay on her side. She is profoundly unlikeable and uncharismatic, and her struggles living alone in the forest are a direct result of her own stupidity and naïvety. Even after she is saved, she insists on being left alone to die in the woods, to which Miguel aptly says, “you’ve clearly never struggled with hunger if that’s the way you want to go.” There is some promise here of a no-nonsense attitude from Miguel, but instead, he decides to (like everyone else) put up with Edee’s ridiculousness until he has, in her words, “made her want to live again.” The majority of the film is spent wanting to hurl eggs at Edee’s head, and despite the festival being online this year, I somehow felt the collective sigh of relief of being freed from her company at the end of the film. 

For a film with such a standard plotline, it really hasn’t done anything to try and set itself apart from the crowd. It is what Ammonite is to Portrait of a Lady on Fire — a less successful carbon copy of multiple already existing films. It has more in common with Eat Pray Love (a personal favourite, but even I can admit hardly a cinematic triumph) than with Nomadland, or Three Billboards, or Wild, or any of a myriad of other, better films about grief and isolation. 

Reasons to watch this film? The scenery is not bad, and there’s a pretty cute dog. Perhaps I have been too harsh. Land is boring and mediocre, but I suppose not unbearable. But set against the backdrop of Sundance, a festival historically bursting with creative independent films deserving of money and attention but snubbed by the mainstream, this vanity project seems incredibly irritating. And maybe the glamour of isolation is not exactly hitting home after the year we’ve just had. Next time, Robin Wright should read the room a little more carefully.

Land premiered at Sundance 2021 and will be released in the UK on April 9. Watch the trailer here:

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