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
If "We Don't Live Here Anymore" had been made in the 1960s, it might have been titled "Jack and Terry and Hank and Edith". To borrow the title of another celebrated 60s film, "We Don't Live Here Anymore" is about carnal knowledge in the 21st century.
The film has a few interesting lines in it. Some have a hollow ring to them. Take the statement that "Even adultery has morality to it." The film does not appear to bear this out. Right or wrong don't seem to come into the picture at all. It seems as if anything goes as long as it makes people "happy". As Hank (Peter Krause) says, "It's easier living with a woman who feels loved" -- even if it is by your best friend Jack (Mark Ruffalo). Far closer to the truth is Mark's comment to his children that the arguments they overhear between their parents are just "adult foolishness". They certainly seem to be compared to the savvy of the kids, who are old beyond their years.
The situation (and the situational ethics) of the film may seem a tad unreal or surreal. But the film is solidly grounded in reality, as embodied by the environment in which the two couples live -- their home lives, their children, the very houses they inhabit.
The music of the film is well chosen, alternating between the drama of operatic or chamber music, and jazz rhythms that sound like a jungle beat -- the beat of sexual heat and passion.
The best of the four lead actors is Laura Dern as Terry. To my mind, she is the only fully rounded and entirely comprehensible character. Dern's setpiece speech about her husband treating her like a dog has the ring of Oscar to it. To be frank, Dern's shaggy mane and thin frame make her look a lot like a dog -- an Afghan or a Lhasa Apso, perhaps -- but she should definitely not be written off as a bitch. On the contrary, we understand and sympathize with her drinking and her anger at being cast aside by her wayward husband Jack.
Mark Ruffalo, as Jack, is harder to understand and to sympathize with. He comes across as too self-centered and callous. Even in his treatment of Edith (Naomi Watts), he seems to think only of himself and his sexual needs. He claims to "love" her, but their relationship is essentially physical. Jack is basically a wuss and a coward who, when push comes to shove, cannot leave his wife and cannot even be honest with his kids about how things stand between their parents. And you get the definite impression that Jack cares more about the children than about Terry. (That being said, the camera absolutely loves Mark Ruffalo with his dark, liquid brown eyes and full, sensual lips.)
By comparison, Peter Krause (Hank) and Naomi Watts (Edith) are less interesting and more like plot devices than real people. Hank is a professor and author with writer's block who has the hots for one of his students, but not for his pretty wife. Hank is no slouch himself in the looks department, but Edith's interests lie across the fence. It is even harder to understand their motivations than Jack's.
Still, "We Don't Live Here Any More" is a fascinating look at modern sexual mores, and Laura Dern is a powerhouse who lights up the screen. Again, don't be surprised if her name is put forward for the coveted golden statuette. You heard it here first!
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