Saturday, September 15, 2007

We Don't Live Here Anymore (2004)

Directed by John Curran
Writers:Andre Dubus (short stories We Don't Live Here Anymore and Adultery)
Larry Gross (screenplay)
Mark Ruffalo ... Jack Linden
Laura Dern ... Terry Linden
Peter Krause ... Hank Evans
Naomi Watts ... Edith Evans


Director John Curran and writer Larry Gross bravely attempt to adapt not one but two Dubus stories into an interwoven whole, but it's clear while watching We Don't Live Here Anymore that—try as they might—Curran, Gross, and their cast can't quite capture what makes Dubus' studies of love and desire so achingly vital. Instead, the movie plays like an inept domestic drama as two New England couples rail, brood, drink, and cross-fuck through the final acts of their unhappy marriages.

Touted as a sexy and provocative drama, We Don't Live Here Anymore is an ensemble piece that strains the attention span as two couples engage in a musical beds tango. The actors are seriously exploring how to make it fresh and meaningful, but the soapy, voyeuristic writing binds them to the prosaic as it focuses on sex, confusion and values that change to match the impulse.

Jack Linden (Mark Ruffalo) and Hank Evans (Peter Krause) are professors on a small campus in Oregon; Jack is married to Terry (Laura Dern) and Hank to Edith (Naomi Watts). Jack thinks Terry drinks too much, and Terry agrees. But Jack isn't cheating with Edith because his wife is a drunk; he's cheating because he wants to, because he and Edith have fallen into a season of lust. Hank, meanwhile, is not particularly alarmed by his cheating wife, because he's a serial cheater himself. His philosophy, explained to Jack: Sure, you should love your wife and kids, but it's OK to fool around sometimes "just because it feels good."

As for Jack's wife, Terry, she tells Jack that she and Hank have had sex, and Jack's response is not the emotional reaction of a wounded man, but the intellectual combativeness of an English professor, who wants details of their conversations because he thinks somehow he can win this battle on a logical level. Hank, for that matter, also seems to prefer the theory to the practice of sex, although he confesses to Jack that he cried after breaking up with his last mistress.

Of course, the pent-up emotional and sexual fires that smolder among this foursome eventually blows the roof off their barely contained tranquility: Terry, out of desperation, fucks Hank and, in a perverse, roundabout way to facilitate the divorce he craves for, Jack needles her about it. The point of all this is that we deserve the life we make, or un-make, for ourselves, and that often means we end up alone. But where Dubus resolves his narratives with a quiet, confident devastation, We Don't Live Here Anymore suffices with platitudes about unfaithful couples, never getting at a deep and distinct understanding of what drives them to unfaithfulness.

My Rating: 5/10


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