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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > We Don't Live Here Anymore

MOVIE REVIEWS

WE DON'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE  (2004)

Starring Mark Ruffalo, Laura Dern, Peter Krause, Naomi Watts, Sam Charles, Haili Page, Jennifer Bishop, Jennifer Mawhinney, Amber Rothwell, Meg Roe, Jim Francis, Marc Baur, Marcel Maillard and Patrick Early.

Screenplay by Larry Gross.

Directed by John Curran.

Distributed by Warner Independent Pictures.  104 minutes.  Rated R.

We 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 control.  The film is based on two novellas by author Andre Dubus. (In the Bedroom also came from his work.) 

The 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.

When 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. 

As 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.

The 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.

The 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. 

The 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. 

This 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 co-stars.  

In 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.  (8/04)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright 2004 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 7, 2004.

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Copyright 2004   PopEntertainment.comAll rights reserved.
Posted: August 7, 2004.

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