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The movie is set in the Pacific Northwest; specifically, Washington state. We know this from a glimpse of a license plate, the craftsman architecture of the two houses, and the mature, rich landscapes in between. The setting, like the scrutiny of the four main character's lives, is defined by the narrowness of the camera's field-of view. The one commercial street in town is only seen in the reflection of a store window, a shot of a non-descript auto-yard, or the tunnel of a tree-lined suburban sidewalk. The lush, wooded landscape is understood as an immediate presence in the domestic and professional lives of the characters; a steep hill, railroad tracks, a rushing stream, and a path over an old steel bridge are revisited again and again by the characters in their capacities as lovers, parents and friends. Written by
A delicate, visceral, and emotionally draining melodrama
A serious and emotionally engaging melodrama that tells of two marriages, of love, friendship, adultery, faithfulness, parenting, and the delicate balance between being true to the spirit within and being responsible about the consequences in the real world.
Mark Ruffalo and Peter Krause play two college tutors of English literature, working away and also trying to get published in their own right in their spare time. They are close buddies and have loving, beautiful wives (Naomi Watts and Laura Dern). We have four 'ordinary people' who are far from caricatures they have sensitivities, intelligence, emotional aspiration and weakness as they struggle with their own stymied abilities to find happiness and fulfilment both for themselves and the ones they love.
We Don't Live Here Anymore looks at the reality of marriage in a less than rose-tinted light. The performances by Watts and Dern shine forth with increasing emotional intensity, and the efforts of their husbands to stage-manage some sort of acceptable compromise ricochet on the fringes of a dark despair that forever looms and threatens to engulf everyone. As the characters realise their increasingly complex shenanigans are verging on disaster, it leads them to ever deeper self-examination of their true feelings. And yet sometimes the children have a greater realisation of what's going on than do their parents. The film's closing scene ("Because I can") reminds us that the element of choice, true and ongoing, is so often lacking in marriage, sometimes even in relatively small things once marriage has been consummated, the rest becomes duty and infidelity is often driven by compulsion - so the elements of ongoing freewill (jointly and singly) can be hard to find.
This movie has been compared to Closer and rightly so it is for mature, thinking audiences who can come to terms with deep imperfections and use the depths of what it takes to be truly human to make things better (or find a way forward that has emotionally honesty). The 'moral right' will dismiss both films not so much out of a sense of superiority ('adultery never pays') but simply through lack of understanding.
The heavy-going nature of the film is alleviated by shots of rare beauty in the surrounding countryside, elegantly photographed, and by the playfulness of the several children. Watts (nearly 38 but still looking 24) and Dern (who appears older, but attractive in a very different way) each show elements of femininity that their characters are desperate to satisfy the need to be wanted and the need to be loved. To appreciate the film it is necessary to see the scenarios from both the viewpoints of the women and of the men. Everybody cares about the kids. Beyond that, the love that is expected of the spouse is at odds with the love that they try to give, so they all feel like 'objects' to their respective partners. The lack of understanding breaks down into infidelity, which (so the film might argue) can almost be a healing balm. "It's much easier living with a woman who feels loved", remarks a cuckolded husband. It's a film where no-one has all the answers (though not for want of trying) and so in some ways a testament to humanity. Sadly, many will see it as just another cynical take on dysfunctional relationships, but the open minded viewer may find a lot more, for this film is a well-made (if not exceptional) work of art that contributes more to the understanding of the human condition than any cutesy, idealised portrayal of happy families.
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