|We Don't Live Here Anymore|
|(dir. John Curran) viewed 6-20-04 in theater (LAFF)
Grade 42 2004
The opening minutes here show two women dancing in the center of a room, with two men on opposing sides watching their women move to the music. The music is a native howl of a song and with the dancing and the men protective in their corners, it becomes immediately clear that this film is going to be sexual roundelay and things are going to get primal. However, it is less predictable that the film will develop into an emotional science fiction film, with empty people acting out in ways that seem phony and unfamiliar to any emotional base I have ever felt, known or heard about.
A very good film called Betrayal was made twenty years ago. In it a man and woman start a torrid love affair that will ruin their lives and relationships with other people that they love. That film was told backwards so it began with the messy break-up and ended with the nervous energy of a sprouting romance, even one that will eventually turn tragic. In We Don't Live Here Anymore the affair has already begun before the plot of the film and the key to why the affair is actually happening is never made clear to the viewer, we are only burdened with watching the time-bomb of their lives tick down to explosion. It feels sometimes like the affair is the manifestation of two unhappy marriages, but neither marriage is painted with enough clarity to explain this.
On top of not having a clear idea of why the affair is taking place, the characters are drawn in very sketchily. Edith Evans, played by Naomi Watts, is the largest black hole of narrative absence in the film. The film doesn't give her any significant scenes or backstory or motivation for her behavior. Most of her screen time consists of either her screwing Jack Linden (Mark Ruffalo - the best performance in the film but still not equal to his work in last year's In The Cut) or being juxtaposed with Jack's wife Terry. There is a lot of juxtaposition in this film between the two couples, but all that really does it highlight how blank these characters are to the viewer: both have kids, both males are professors and both females are house wives (at least I think Edith was a housewife but I'm not sure the film even bothered to give her that thread of character detail).
Director John Curran (who previously made Praise, well liked by some but unseen by me) tries to keep the film interesting visually and he mostly succeeds, finding moments of lyrical beauty between the fights and abuse. He also makes good use of the sound design, using noise and music to help make transitions and juxtapositions of scenes fit when they probably couldn't otherwise. However, together with the screenplay by Larry Gross (on stories by Andre Dubus) he is unable to stage fights that have much impact or realistic weight to them. For instance, compare any of the argument scenes here with the argument in the other Dubus adaptation In the Bedroom: where a fight is interrupted by a girl scout selling cookies and in which both opposing sides go through a variety of emotions (not just venom and hatred - the two notes played most often in We Don't Live Here Anymore). Also, We Don't Live Here Anymore sometimes doesn't know where to draw the line between melodrama and offensive insinuations; especially in one key scene that suggests an imminent murder of children, which doesn't register as anything beyond shameful audience manipulation.