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Awesome: 7.27%
Worth A Look: 25.45%
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Total Crap: 14.55%

7 reviews, 13 user ratings

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We Don't Live Here Anymore
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by Beth Gilligan

"A tour-de-force examination of marital strife"
4 stars

To paraphrase Tolstoy (who himself is enjoying newfound success in the wake of the Oprah’s book club selection of Anna Karenina), happy couples are all alike; every unhappy couple is unhappy in its own way. In We Don’t Live Here Anymore (2004), the latest cinematic offering of Andre Dubus’s (In the Bedroom) fiction, director John Curran and screenwriter Larry Gross set out to explore precisely how two of the latter couples came to be that way.

Jack and Terry Linden (Mark Ruffalo and Laura Dern) lead what might easily be viewed as an idyllic existence. In their early 30s, married for almost a decade, they have two adorable children and, in Jack’s case, a steady job teaching at local college. Their good friends and neighbors, Hank and Edith Evans (Peter Krause and Naomi Watts), appear to lead an equally charmed life, with a sweet daughter and an even nicer home. In the quiet suburbs where they live, the two couples frequently get together for wine-soaked dinner parties; it is at these where the cracks in their perfect veneer begin to show.

In the film’s opening sequence, which – like the rest of the movie – features innovative use of sound to convey the characters’ inner lives, Curran conveys the flirtations, jealousy, and dishonesty that threaten to consume both couples. It becomes readily apparent that Jack and Edith have embarked on an extramarital affair. Whether this romance has been fuelled by desire or boredom is left up in the air, but what is devastatingly clear is the damaging effect it is having on their respective marriages, especially Terry and Jack’s. As Edith and Jack become increasingly elusive to their spouses, Hank and Terry are drawn closer together, with disastrous results.

In a recent article in The New York Times, Caryn James took the film to task for being mired in a 1970s mentality. She asserts – quite wrongly, I think – that Terry’s sloppy housekeeping was a motivation for Jack’s infidelity (I read it as more of a symptom of her marital discontent), and expressed chagrin at Terry and Edith’s seeming unwillingness to enter the work force. While some of these details may seem more at home in the Me Decade (which is indeed where the source material derives from), what James fails to grasp is the film’s startling contemporary relevance. Salon’s Charles Taylor recently pinpointed a mini-genre of millennial films; he dubs this new phenomenon “rootless cinema,” though “cinema of alienation” might work just as well. In it, he writes,

“It's as if our anxieties about the headlong pace of technology, of living under the threat of terrorism, of an economy that leaves most of us unsettled long past the age when our parents and grandparents had achieved some semblance of security, about being overwhelmed with choices we're not sure we even want to avail ourselves of, had risen from us like a collective ether and permeated the screen.”

While many of the films he names – Lost in Translation (2003), In the Mood for Love (2000), What Time is it There? (2001), and Before Sunset (2004), among others – concern individuals placed in unfamiliar surroundings, they are linked by a common desire to, as E.M. Forster famously put it, “only connect.” Their struggles to forge these bonds and, in most cases, their inability to do so, provide fodder for a brand of discontent not witnessed since the days when Bergman’s Swedes-in-existential-crisis and Antonioni’s stylish-yet-depressed Italians made regular appearances on the silver screen.

The unhappiness and alienation exhibited in We Don’t Live Here Anymore is of a less exotic variety than, say, that of Scarlett Johansson’s melancholy newlywed in Lost in Translation. While not trading knowing, jaded remarks with Bill Murray’s washed-out movie star, Johansson’s character spends most of her time languishing in her luxury suite at a fancy Japanese hotel. Still, what the Linden and the Evans families lack in expensive trappings, they more than make up for in dysfunction.

In the 15 August 2004 edition of The Washington Post Magazine, feminist author Naomi Wolf is quoted as saying, “We’ve raised a generation of young women – and men – who don’t understand sexual ethics…They don’t see sex as sacred or even very important anymore. That’s been lost. Sex has been commodified and drained of its deeper meaning.” While Wolf was commenting on the infamy surrounding Jessica Cutler, the 25-year old Congressional staffer who was unceremoniously dumped from her job after her boss discovered she had been chronicling her sexual adventures with the men of Capitol Hill on a weblog, her remarks point to the modern-day relevance of a film like We Don’t Live Here Anymore.

At the time when “We Don’t Live Here Anymore” and “Adultery” (the short stories on which the screenplay was based) were published, the sexual revolution may have taken hold, but its consequences had yet to find their way into the fabric of American culture. By setting the film in the present day, Gross had the opportunity to examine the ways in which changes in attitudes about sex over the past three decades – not to mention its glorification in the mainstream media – have affected familial structures.

To get this point across, the film’s producers have assembled an astonishingly talented cast. Ruffalo, Dern, Krause, and Watts each breathe life and heart into characters who often behave unsympathetically. Dern’s performance especially stands out, as she bravely delves into the anxiety and deep unhappiness of her character.

Dubus may have published his stories in the 1970s, but their current-day ramifications are undeniable.

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originally posted: 08/24/04 04:29:58
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Los Angeles Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/28/07 richard state and napoleon dynamite..."far wittier, original pieces" please stop. 5 stars
11/10/05 Phil M. Aficionado The cast made this "more real feeling" than the story deserved to be; Just an OK film. 3 stars
7/18/05 steandric great film with great acting, especially from oscar-nominee naomi watts. 5 stars
7/10/05 Charlene Javier Brooding. 3 stars
6/13/05 lindy03 by the end of the film, does anyone give a damn? 1 stars
5/28/05 Strutho remove sharp items from your person before entering the cinema, you want to cut your wrists 1 stars
5/05/05 Indrid Cold Intelligent, detailed portrait of adultery; not a surprise that it's quite unentertaining. 3 stars
1/02/05 MyGreenBed Good acting, realistic situations (for desperate 35 yr old married folk), nice visually. 4 stars
8/31/04 cruella bring your jammies, it's a snore 3 stars
8/25/04 Kacey Kowars Wonderful script, wonderful ensemble acting 5 stars
8/07/04 taxi Horrible people we don't care about in bad marriages 2 stars
7/02/04 jeffrey Worth the time just to see Naomi Watts have sex 4 stars
4/01/04 Eric Mathenson Saw this film at sundance- it was excellent, great acting, great direction. 5 stars
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  13-Aug-2004 (R)
  DVD: 14-Dec-2004



Directed by
  John Curran

Written by
  Larry Gross

  Mark Ruffalo
  Laura Dern
  Peter Krause
  Naomi Watts

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