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We Don't Live Here Anymore (2005)

Adultery

Ordinary lives. Extraordinary emotions.

Directed by:

John Curran

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 99 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15

Country: Canada, United States

In an era when most of the movies that hit our multiplexes tend to be crass, adolescent-oriented, action-driven, dumbed-down monstrosities, critics often look back fondly on the 1970s as a Golden Age for American cinema, when the obvious was avoided and character was king (or queen). John Curran’s ‘We Don’t Live Here Anymore’ harks back to that time not just because of its adult themes, its unconcern with superficial event, and its psychological subtlety, but also because the screenplay, adapted from two Andre Dubus short stories (‘We Don’t Live Here Anymore’ and ‘Adultery’), was actually written by Larry Gross in the 1970s, and has lain dormant ever since. Like Closer (also released in 2004), ‘We Don’t Live Here Anymore’ is concerned with the complications arising from a menage à quatre, and features a brutal honesty which is destined to have any couples in the cinema flinching with the pain of recognition– but unlike Closer, Curran’s film makes no effort to appear slickly contemporary, instead favouring a less specific look, appropriate to almost any decade of the last half a century. As such, one suspects that, for all its lack of fashion, it will age far more gracefully.

In a small New England university town, two couples, married with children, struggle to come to terms with long-term commitment. Literature lecturer Jack (Mark Ruffalo) feels trapped, while his wife Terry (Laura Dern) feels unloved, and amidst the dirt and mess of their home they constantly bicker. On the other hand, writing lecturer Hank (Peter Krause) is absorbed by his own work and his periodic philandering, while his wife Edith (Naomi Watts) feels secondary, and in their immaculate, chilly house they barely communicate at all. During the summer, Jack and Edith embark on a passionate affair. Terry is suspicious from the start, and by the time winter comes, she is driven for comfort (and revenge) into the arms of Hank. As the truth of their unraveling marriages comes out, all four are made to confront who they are and what they really want.

Besides the gradual breakdown of relationships measured in the passing of seasons, not much happens in ‘We Don’t Live Here Anymore’ in terms of conventional narrative – rather it is an elaborate portrait composed of interweaving parallels, contrasts and closely observed gestures. When, for example, Jack and Edith are shown having sex with their respective spouses, careful intercutting reveals their common sense of disengagement; Jack’s involvement with his two children, on the other hand, is set against Hank’s inattention to his daughter; while each scene of Jack’s adultery with Edith is punctuated by his subsequent guilty purchase of fresh lobster as a gift for Terry; and Terry’s sense of optimism or disappointment can be gauged by her shifting enthusiasm for housework. These details accumulate to form an intelligent drama about the conflicts and crises, the lies, deceptions and petty treacheries, that all need to be weathered for a relationship to last.

The four leads give highly nuanced performances, bringing a believable complexity to their characters, and enabling them to become, and remain, sympathetic figures despite their many flaws and moments of cruelty – and the scene near the end where Jack takes his children on a bike ride to the river, as he (and the viewers with him) try to work out what he will do next, sets a new benchmark in emotional intensity, and even suspense. Maryse Alberti’s subdued cinematography and Michael Convertino’s elegiac soundtrack bring the finishing touches to a film which, in its quietly explosive way, is a classic of marital frustration.

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It's Got: Excellent performances; a subtle, layered script; a lyrical mood; and a lot of lobster.

It Needs: To be shunned by fans of kinetic blockbusters.

Alternatives:

'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?', Closer

Summary

This nuanced portrait of marital ennui and infidelity is a welcome throwback to the Golden Age of the seventies.

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