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We Don't Live Here Anymore

a film by John Curran

Most relationship-oriented films begin on, at least, an outwardly positive note before the character's lives start to erode away and everything usually goes to shit - in We Don't Live Here Anymore, things start out in a world of shit, and things don't get any better from there.

We see Jack and Terry and Hank and Edith enjoying a hazy half-drunken evening of comradery, dancing and twirling on the family room floor. It is not until we finally make out who is with who, that we start to see the aforementioned shit.   Guilt-ridden self-loathing Jack is unhappily married to long-suffering, drunken Terry while angry, jaded Edith is unhappily married to cocksure-yet-insecure Hank. Edith, after finding out about her husband's affair with a French woman has taken up coital duties with her best friend's husband, Jack.   Jack at least seems bothered by what he's doing to his wife, but Edith may just be out for revenge at first - only one more problem: the two adulterers fall in love, or at least think that they do, and it takes their sexual relationship to a deeper, even more dangerous level.

Jack and Edith, out of guilt perhaps, end up pushing Hank and Terry into a situation where they will undoubtedly start an affair of their own.   Jack and Edith seem to revel in the prospect of their spouses fucking each other in retaliation for what they have done - that is until it actually happens and both Jack and Edith realize the disaster they have unleashed upon their respective families.

Mark Ruffalo as Jack, plays essentially the same character he did in You Can Count on Me - a man who feels he is inferior to everyone around him and masks it beneath a quick-tempered broodishness, only here he eventually finds his own self-worth and responsible nature.   Ruffalo, whose eyes read like those of a sad clown who no longer has anything to laugh about, plays Jack as if he were the most heroic person on Earth - only nobody told Jack.

Naomi Watts as Edith is coldly perfect in her unabashed emotional roller coaster of a role.   Part Bette Davis-esque vamp, part Joan Crawford-esque bruvado, part Liv Ullman-esque tragedy.   Watts, who plays emotions better than just about anybody out there, plays Edith with a knowing wink to the audience, while all the time, slowly creeping toward the unsentimental bitter revelation of what she has done to her best friend, but has become so gutted emotionally, that it may no longer matter to her until it's too late.

Peter Krause as Hank, who is a melancholic volcano just waiting to erupt (both here and on HBO's masterful Six Feet Under series), is probably the least guilt-ridden of this adulterous foursome, but in no way does that mean to imply that he is free of any psychological detriments.   Hank is both a failed writer and a failed husband. His cocky demeanor manages only superficially to hide his own emotional downward spiral.   Hank is equally as unhappy as everyone else around him - only he hides it better than anyone else.

Finally we get to Laura Dern as Terry - the very heart of this film - both as a character and as an actress.   Dern gives one of the best performances of her career (and that is saying a lot) as the most morally upright, yet most easily crumbled member of the foursome.   Terry drinks too much and lets their house disintegrate into a dirty-dish laden hovel - and we see why - her spirit has been shattered by years of living in a marriage with no love.

All throughout this film, Director Curran, tries to emphasize, sometimes over-emphasize, the economic differences between these two couples.   Both Jack and Hank are English professors at some unnamed great northwest college, but Hank is the one with the better position and the better office and the better rapport with the students.   Both Edith and Terry are mothers and housewives, but it is Edith who has the emmaculately picturesque home, while Terry is portrayed as a frazzled over-worked maid for her husband and two children.   It is Jack who can't afford to buy food and it is Hank who lends him the money.   It is Terry who has her credit card declined and it is Edith her opens her mail to find a check for five hundred dollars from her mother.   Even the simple act of jogging in the summer afternoons, we see Hank running along like he's in the Olympics while Jack throws-up on the side of the road from over exertion.

Seeing these things, we think that maybe something, somewhere inside Jack may be telling him to sleep with Edith for reasons other than sex or love.   Perhaps Jack wants to take from his friend anything he has better than him - just to prove that he can.   But even if this is the case, it doesn't really matter, because Jack has convinced himself he is in love with Edith - when it is clear to us that he is not.   It should be clear to us that Jack isn't sure of what he wants at all and this is what is causing his inner turmoil.

Curran centerly frames his shots so they appear as if they are maybe somewhat influenced by Kubrick's style (and the classical music soundtrack adds to that impression), but these four characters are far from centered - juxtaposing the straightforward angles of the camera.   Surprisingly nuanced for such an untested young American director, We Don't Live Here Anymore portrays emotional cruelty in a vivid realistic and unsympathetic manner, without ever pandering to its audience with quick fixes or pat happy endings. [08/27/04]

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