Don't Live Here Anymore
Marriage may very well be the toughest job in the world. Without
constant work, compromise, anger and forgiveness, what is supposed to be (at
least in theory) the happiest state that two people will experience can
swirl into a maelstrom of fights, rage, hurt feelings and passive-aggressive
warfare. They usually don't show you this side of the relationships in
Hollywood. We want to know that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan or Hugh Grant
and Julia Roberts are fated to be together. We don't want to see the
reality years later when they are arguing about bills, drinking or
whether he put down the toilet seat.
We Don't Live Here Anymore is an astonishingly (and often painfully)
intimate portrait of what happens when two relationships are speeding out of
film is based on two novellas by author Andre Dubus. (In the Bedroom
also came from his work.)
film opens with two
couples together at a house party. They drink, sing, dance, flirt
and generally act crazy. We don't know who is with whom. They run
out of beer. Jack (Mark Ruffalo) offers to go get some more.
Edith (Naomi Watts) says she'll go along with him. Hank (Peter Krause)
and Terry (Laura Dern) stay at the house, dance and talk. It is only
when Jack and Edith are on their way to the beer distributor that we realize
that the two are not married. Soon after we realize they are in the
middle of an affair.
Jack returns, Terry accuses him of cheating with Edith. He
denies it vehemently, and passive-aggressively turns things around so that
she acknowledges that Hank had made a clumsy pass at her. Jack becomes
obsessed with the idea... perhaps by pushing Terry towards an affair with
Hank he can relieve the guilt he feels about meeting Edith regularly in the
woods for some steamy zipless sex.
we get to know more about the characters, we find out Jack
and Hank are fortyish college English professors. Both wives
are homemakers, though Terry obviously is smart enough to work herself.
Instead she is overwhelmed by housework, rearing their two children
and trying to keep the family on a budget where there never seems to be
enough money. Her depression leads to her shirking her housecleaning
and drinking way too much, two failings that Jack points out with hostile
regularity. However, despite all the problems, Terry does truly and
totally love her husband. She will not sell herself short to continue
to live with him if he does not feel the same, however she is willing to
fight to get them back on the right track.
marriage of Hank and Edith is somewhat less complicated, at least on the
surface. They are well off enough monetarily. They live in a
spotless home. They both love their daughter, who does seem a bit
moody for her age... undoubtedly an unconscious reaction to the strained
good humor of her parents. Hank and Edith
don't really fight. In fact, they don't seem to speak all that much at
all. The only reason that we really know for sure that their marriage
is on the rocks is that Edith periodically tells Jack (in the rare occasions
they aren't having sex) that she hates Hank. Hank, on the other hand,
sometimes lazily flirts with his students, but seems more obsessed with his
stagnant literary career than any relationship he is involved in.
strange thing about the film is that while the infidelities of the
principals are of course painful and devastating, they are a symptom of the
problem, not the cause. None of the sex that the four indulge in seems
to bring any of them any joy. It is desperate and needy and sad.
It is an attempt to recapture something that they have long ago lost... be
it passion, safety or even a sense of purpose as a couple.
film does have a tendency to be so serious that occasional witty lines are
rather shocking. For example, in one scene Hank is feeling sorry for
himself after selling a poem to The New Yorker. When Terry
congratulates him, he says it's just a poem; it doesn't matter. She
suggests if it's so meaningless, maybe he should do something important like
working in a hospital. He pauses for just a moment and says devilishly
that those places just are no fun. Frankly, the movie could use more
of that levity.
is a small quibble in a terrific film, though. It is not a traditional
movie story, but it has a quiet thrust that makes it more stimulating
than most of what comes down the studio pike. Truthfully, this
film has three of the best acting jobs of the year. Mark Ruffalo is
mind-boggling as Jack. He does truly abhorrent, hateful things and yet
you do not hate him -- you recognize that he is desperately unhappy and lost
behind his soft-spoken facade. Peter Krause is wonderful as the most
mysterious character of the four. On the surface, Hank seems to be the
shallow one of the four, however Krause keeps you guessing what he knows and
when he knows it. The true revelation is Laura Dern, though, she is smart
and sexy and beautiful and seething and nagging and angry and desperate and
devastating. Naomi Watts is good enough in her one-dimensional role,
however her character has much less shading and subtlety than those of her
the end, all these deceptions destroy one couple, while the other couple
decides to try and make it work. Honestly, though none of them seem to
realize it, I think it is the couple that breaks up that may be the lucky one.
Copyright ©2004 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: August 7, 2004.