Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Modern short stories can be excellent filmic springboards. This effort takes two pieces by
Andre Dubus (In the Bedroom) and forms them into an intriguing character study. College
towns have always been a favored setting for marital intrigue, perhaps because many ambitious
writers come from that millieu; John Curran's thoughtful look at alienation and infidelity is
more perceptive than most and ultimately more depressing.
Washington State. College teachers Jack Linden (Mark Ruffalo) and Hank Evans (Peter
Krause) are fairly settled into their careers but have deteriorating relationships with their
stay-at-home-mother wives, Terry (Laura Dern) and Edith (Naomi Watts). In a general atmosphere of
discontent and boredom, Jack and Edith are attracted to each other, and Hank starts making passes
The darkly-titled We Don't Live Here Anymore is a four-person character study cast with
good actors suited to their roles. Mark Ruffalo's Jack and Peter Krause's Hank tend toward
passive behavior with their unhappy wives. They have secure jobs but find themselves lacking. Peter
is a casual womanizer and his resentful Edith has no qualms about reaching out to Jack, the husband
of her best friend. Jack is superficially devoted to his family but boredom has made
him unresponsive to his demonstrative, excitable wife Terry. Jack and Edith's steamy affair soon
brings their opposite numbers together in a counter-affair that is part reprisal and part desperation.
Soon the wives and Jack are a mess of anger and regret. Only Hank stays relatively aloof from the
fireworks, preferring to wallow in his private world as a frustrated, unpublished author.
The film has excellent short-story touches. The focus on the four characters keeps the rest of their
college town on the periphery; the party Edith throws to celebrate Hank's getting a single
poem printed in The New Yorker is only seen in bits and pieces. Edith gets a letter from her
mother with a big check, and we catch a glimpse of her mother's handwriting criticizing her
worthless husband. The life and heart of both families are the children and we are given little snippets
of school performances and playtime behaviors. Director Curran keeps returning to the warning lights
of a railroad crossing, and we can't tell if he's using them to sound a silent alarm for the
endangered relationships, or is perhaps foreshadowing some dark event to come.
We get some fine acting here. The husband & wife exchanges are appropriately muted as both parties
sulk in isolation, and then burst out with emotional accusations and recriminations. Mark Ruffalo's
husband likes to stay silent until Laura Dern's wife flies off the handle, so he can come back with stinging
remarks that make it seem as though he's the voice of reason. Peter Krause and Naomi Watts avoid direct
verbal assaults but instead simmer in controlled contempt for one another. It's all convincing and more
than a little depressing.
There's some steamy sex, mainly as Ruffalo and Watts get together in a leafy forest or shack up in
the nearest motel. But we also feel Laura Dern's frustration in making love to an unresponsive
husband who gives nothing in return. Peter Krause's Hank lusts after various students, obsesses
over a previous affair with a Frenchwoman, and is always ready to slide into whatever might be
offered by his best friend's wife. He gets the least coverage and is the least likeable, but he's
certainly true to type.
The film might be seen as a less complicated rethink of Joseph Losey's
Accident, another film about
bored and straying collegiate educators that sets its cinematic aspirations at a much higher
level. This picture stays much more down to Earth, and stands on its own merit.
The characters in We Don't Live Here Anymore aren't isolated but they do seem to exist in a world with
close boundaries, a holdover from the short story format, perhaps. Other reviewers have said that
the film "might be even more effective" on a small screen, but Savant appreciates intimate
big-screen entertainment. Every trip to the theater doesn't have to be to see escapist fantasy.
Warners' DVD of We Don't Live Here Anymore looks fine in its soft colors and delicate tones. The
art direction stresses the beauty of the Northwest - although I understand Washington has far more rain
than we see here. The audio environment is simple but effective. Besides an intriguing trailer, there
are no extras. That's too bad, as the capable actors might have some good insights to share about this
well-made, serious film.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
We Don't Live Here Anymore rates:
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: January 7, 2005
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson