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22 July 2005

We Don't Live Here Anymore

Mark Ruffalo, Laura Dern, Naomi Watts & Peter Krause
Directed by John Curran

From Hollywood Video: "Two couples, who have been close friends for many years, find their marriages and lives falling to pieces when two of the four people have an affair."

The film is actually a little more complicated than that, in that ALL of the partners involved eventually swap round. But essentially the premise is a simple one, perhaps first engineered to great publicity within the ranks of Fleetwood Mac, ABBA and Bob & Carol and Ted & Alice and covered as serious cinematic themes more recently in The Ice Storm and Closer.

I think I'm ready to give up on the idea as satisfactory viewing on my part. I just cannot find any point of emotional reference with characters so vastly different from my own sense of morality, commitment, love, sex, family, contentment, life and partnership. You know, the little things. Ahead are a few spoilers, so beware.

Husband A (Ruffalo) is discontent with the emptiness of his life (because it just cannot live up to the Tolstoy he teaches) and sleeps with Wife B (Watts), a foxy neat-nick who is coldly estranged and isolated because of her husband's past indiscretions. Wife A (Dern) starts to go nuts, suspecting an affair and drinking herself into slovenly oblivion, while Husband B (Krause) burns his completed novel, starts hitting on his students, and shows off his masculine prowess in time-tested machismo displays like "I can run fast." And then THEY sleep together, kinda out of spite and kinda out of boredom.

And they all have children to boot. Great!

The acting was fantastic, as you might expect in a low-key, emotionally-driven piece like this, but that only made the characters all the more potently disturbing and pathetic. The directing was intense but a little slow - or maybe it was the story. There is only so much new material to cover in this love quadrangle scenario. The entire premise, based on two short stories by Andre Dubus, envisioned the affairs from a man's point of view (sex against a tree, sex in a hallway, sex in the front seat of a car). The women speak lines about their craving for understanding and someone to "make love" to them, but what they settle for is cheap shagging, either with their husbands or their new partners, all the while risking their marriages, families and friendships. And the men - selfish, distant, full of hubris - are nowhere worth the risk.

The ending, however, was artfully ambiguous and worth mentioning. Whereas Dern's character drinks herself away from reality, Watts stares at an object of potential harm - a knife, scissors - on more than one occasion. When she separates from her husband, the ominous train (which had been threatening with overblown foreshadowing to run over a child, hit a bicycle, or kill a partner) can be heard approaching her car. Focused so closely on Watts' face, we cannot know if she is waiting for the train to pass or waiting on the tracks. The end. Both options are plausible, but I wouldn't have cared had the ending been decided either way, just really upset for the girl in the back seat whose life was already screwed over by selfish, unworthy parents.

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