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
Ferocious and Biting: Where "Bob & Carol and Ted & Alice" Wind Up in Reality
Director John Curran's "We Don't Live Here Anymore" is a continuously sizzling, attention-holding drama about two couples - best friends - who are perched precariously in twisted relationships that threaten their marriages and imperil the security of their children.
Jack Linden (Mark Ruffalo) is married to Terry (Laura Dern) and they have two small children, a boy and a girl. Their closest friends, with whom they spend much (too much from my popcorn-munching perspective) time, are Hank Evans (Peter Krause) and Edith (Naomi Watts). They've got one pre-teen daughter. Jack and Hank teach English literature and creative writing at a small college in the rural area where they live. Both aspire to be published authors of fiction.
Jack has a torrid affair going with Edith, who feels neglected by her husband. Maybe at heart she simply doesn't like him anymore, much less love him. Hank's a fellow who thinks that free love is a guiltless and fine option that should co-exist with marriage. He doesn't care if Edith engages in adulterous liaisons, a normal part of his married life. Actually he's an empty-headed ass. He certainly isn't in tune with contemporary legal standards about refraining from sexually-laced comments to female students. In addition to being an ass, it's fair to say he's a pig too.
Terry suspects the affair while also being pursued by Hank. Hank the skirt-chaser is imbued with a touch of sociopathy. No evidence of conscience or feelings about the harm he might wreak disturbs his calm mien. Kudos to Peter Krause for investing Hank with such single-minded devotion to self-gratification that the viewer constantly wonders, "He's got to be a mensch, finally, no?" No.
Terry and Jack's marriage is in a rut. Terry imbibes too much and as contrasted to Edith, as a housewife she's a bit of a sloven, a trait for which she's excessively berated by Jack. Ruffalo is alternately sympathetic and repelling as a guy auto-fast-forwarded to his mid-life crisis.
Surprise-as the relationships become more complex, psychologically and sexually, the kids, all three of them, are in the middle. Only Terry seems to understand, with the desperateness of a shipwrecked sailor clinging to a plank, that preserving her marriage is in her kids' best interests if not necessarily her own.
Naomi Watts, who co-produced the movie, is beautiful and her dalliance with Jack is, for her, much more than a regular tumble for sexual diversity. She's alternately funny and deeply wistful, not fully in control of her world. A fine acting job.
But the emotional core of "We Don't Live Here Anymore" is the stunningly brilliant, ever remarkable Laura Dern, one of the greatest (and shamefully most underemployed) actresses working today. Dern's Terry is confused and desperate at times but her strongest, most ferocious belief is that the center must hold. Her center is her marriage and kids. And she loves Jack as no one else can and as he is too blind to appreciate.
Dern deserves an Oscar nomination for her fierce, gripping performance. Her facial expressions and her desperate pleading with Jack reflect a woman who isn't so much afraid of a marital breakup as she is hauntingly, achingly aware of what it will do to their kids. Pursued by Hank, rejected by Jack, Dern's Terry wavers but always hangs on to an inner strength the other three protagonists never had.
"Bob & Carol and Ted & Alice" decades ago parodied the sexual revolution that included, for some, mate swapping and adultery as - almost - a rite of passage for young, well-educated, affluent couples. "We Don't Live Here Anymore" updates the pseudo-sophistication of that portrayal and blazingly shows the human cost that may or may not make adultery worthwhile. The end here is as reassuring as viewers want (or need) it to be.
The cinematography is excellent. The score, ranging from Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 to bagpipe music to an almost minimalist accompaniment to critical scenes, is well integrated with Larry Cross's crisp screenplay. The original short stories by Andre Dubos are well adapted.
A powerful film, "We Don't Live Here Anymore" takes what could have been a "B" soap opera and through the brilliant acting of the quartet of leading characters brings to life an absorbing and meaningful story.
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