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September 2004

By Julian Roman

We Don't Live Here Anymore

Distributor: Warner Independent Pictures
Director: John Curran
Producers: Harvey Kahn, Naomi Watts, Jonas Goodman
Screenwriter: Larry Gross
Composer: Lesley Barber
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Naomi Watts, Laura Dern, & Peter Krause




We Don't Live Here Anymore is an intense, personal drama about two married couples and their reactions to infidelity. Mark Ruffalo, in an exceptional performance, stars as Jack Linden, a college professor in a small northwestern town. Jack's marriage to Terry (Laura Dern) has come to a breaking point. He has been having a torrid sexual affair with Edith (Naomi Watts), the wife of his best friend and coworker, Hank (Peter Krausse). The relationships between these two couples are very intricate. They are the best of friends and share deep emotional bonds. The problem is that each person harbors profound misgivings about themselves. These personal faults manifest into destructive behavior; leading both couples down an amoral path of sex and selfishness.

The context of the story is pertinent to modern times. Based on two short stories by Andre Debussy, the plot takes a hardened look at marriage. The source material was written in the 70's on the tail-end of the sexual revolution. Thirty years later, the sanctity of marriage has steadily become degraded. More than half of all marriages fail. The couples in this film are at the point of a sad awakening. They've both been married for ten years, have children, but are criminally unhappy. Their dreams have not come true and the realization is staggering. Jack looks at his life and yearns for so much more. He doesn't know what he wants, but screwing Edith, getting away with something, gives him a hollow satisfaction. Terry loves her husband dearly, but he pushes her away with his reckless behavior. Edith and Hank are completely different animals. Hank, who is by far the most culpable character in the film, is a serial adulterer. He goes out to scratch the itch whenever he has it. Edith has to come to terms with Hank's cheating and finds her happiness in striking back. It's all very twisted, four people ignoring truth on a grand scale.

The reason why this film works is the ending. I thought it was very realistic. The characters are not fools. The decisions they make in the conclusion are well thought out and executed. It would have been extremely disappointing if there was a fairy-tale ending or shocking ending. Director John Curran and screenwriter Larry Gross flirt with the possibility of such a finale. It had me wondering, so they deserve credit for not making things obvious. They do get a little overboard with the attempt for a cinematically poetic ending. The last few shots of the film had me utterly mystified. I interviewed Curran at the press junket and asked him about the meaning of those scenes. They don't mean anything. It was just his way of ending the film. That's too much; you shouldn't tease the audiences with visual cues that amount to nothing.

The acting is absolutely superb. Every performance is unique and right on the money. I could rave about the cast forever, but Mark Ruffalo must be singled out. This guy is such a great, not good or decent, but great actor. He has quietly built up an impressive resume of quality films (You Can Count on Me, The Last Castle, Collateral). Ruffalo knows how to flesh out characters. He brings remarkable depth to all of his roles. So many actors phone in their performances. He plays it perfect every time. This guy is going to win an Oscar someday.

We Don't Live Here Anymore will bore the pants of many people. It is a deliberate, thoughtful film about complicated individuals. Don't see this movie if you're expecting a thrill a minute. This is a hardcore drama with a lot of dialogue. Short attention spans are not going to work here. I really liked it and believe it speaks volumes about modern day marriages.