We Don't Live Here Anymore

on August 13, 2004 by Annlee Ellingson
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In the dreamy opening moments of "We Don't Live Here Anymore," two couples have gathered for an evening of drinking and dancing. At first it's impossible to determine who's with whom--a not unmeaningful narrative choice. It's not until Edith (Naomi Watts) offers to go out and get more beer and Jack (Mark Ruffalo) too enthusiastically volunteers to go with that one deduces that they're not together--though they will be soon.

Meanwhile, back at the house, Edith's casually sexy husband Hank (Peter Krause) hits on Jack's wife Terry (Laura Dern). It's a revelation that doesn't elicit the response she expects from Jack, whose affair with Edith by that time is in full swing and whose guilt would be alleviated if Terry were also cheating on him. Soon, through Jack's own unwitting machinations, Terry does sleep with Hank, a Lothario who lives by a personal code of loving his wife and daughter while sleeping with whomever he wants.

Meanwhile, the couples--both men are academics in a New England town, both women are stay-at-home moms--maintain a facade of normalcy against a backdrop of pastoral images and sounds, still getting together to jog and watch old movies on cable. But, rather than establish a workable, if awkward, contemporary compromise by simply settling into a pattern of spouse-swapping, the two couples face difficult choices driven by Jack's overriding remorse and Edith ever-hardening steely resolve.

An adaptation of two short stories by Andre Dubus, who also wrote the source material for "In the Bedroom" and is the father of the author of "The House of Sand and Fog," "We Don't Live Here Anymore" is marked by the rich characterization of four starkly different people. As scripted by Larry Gross and directed by John Curran, there's a constant compare and contrast going on between Jack and Terry's household, which wakes up to hangovers and screaming kids, and the quiet idyll at Hank and Edith's; between Jack's indecisiveness and Hank's confidence; between Terry's slovenly housekeeping skills and ugly hysterics and Edith's sterile home and icy acceptance of her husband's infidelity. Because the characters are so skillfully drawn on the page and in the nuanced performances of these fine actors, their respective reactions to the turmoil in their relationships--as unexpected to themselves as to the audience--reveal true pathos and insight. Starring Mark Ruffalo, Laura Dern, Peter Krause and Naomi Watts. Directed by John Curran. Written by Larry Gross. Produced by Harvey Kahn, Naomi Watts and Jonas Goodman. A Warner Independent Pictures release. Drama. Rated R for sexual content and language. Running time: 104 min

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