If you walked into your friend’s house and caught him in the middle of an argument with his spouse about their marriage, you’d walk out wouldn’t you? On one level you certainly want to give them their privacy. It’s none of your business anyway. But you’d also feel uncomfortable, wouldn’t you? And who needs to hear about someone else’s problems when, Lord knows, you have enough to worry about in your life. Precisely what I thought when I picked up my bag and left before the credits told me to.How many times have we seen this story? Two married couples who are unhappy begin cheating on each other within the inner circle? Don’t exclude comedies. Think about it for a second. I’d be hard-pressed to discover the exact date this became a storyline cliché. At least a comedy can have those wacky hi-jinks with the cutesy screwball music. A dramatic treatment either better have something fresh to say on the subject of marriage and infidelity or the acting better be stellar enough to deliver some snappy dialogue to make it seem fresh. We Don’t Live Here Anymore fails on nearly every count.
If the increase in big-cast projects has risen over the years at Sundance, one needed to look no further than this title in the program to see one of the most solid. Any film that boasts the likes of Mark Ruffalo, Laura Dern, Peter Krause and Naomi Watts has to warrant part of your attention, at least before you walk in. In the film Mark is married to Laura and Peter to Naomi. Mark is not-so-secretly banging Naomi and Peter is making drunken passes at Laura. Mark won’t own up to his affair and Laura partially wants to experience Peter’s advances. Snoring yet?
That’s really about all there is. Mark and Laura have kids. He seems to like them. She’s a slob of a housewife who goes on Lady Macbeth-like cleaning fits when she’s upset. That’s more than we can say for Peter who just seems to be a bored lout who isn’t above making inappropriate comments to his students. As for Naomi, well, she sure likes to take off her clothes.
What is there for these actors to do but shout and scream and get a chance to play-screw another actress? The dialogue may have a realistic feel to it, but I refer you back to the walk-out plan. Ruffalo continues to emote his confused exterior and Dern gets to yell at him a whole lot. Krause is plainly doing Nate from season one of Six Feet Under and Naomi, well, she sure likes to take off her clothes.
We Don’t Live Here Anymore was based on some stories by Andre Dubus, who also penned the tale on which In the Bedroom was fashioned and whose son wrote House of Sand and Fog. Those were stories that transcended simple shouting into branches of morality, grief, race and revenge. There’s nothing we haven’t seen before here and done far better in the snappy works of Neil LaBute or Edward Albee.How Larry Gross’ screenplay won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance is beyond comprehension when far wittier, original pieces like Garden State and Napoleon Dynamite were on display. Those were films where I wanted to spend time with the characters after the film was over. There was ten minutes left when I packed up and if I were told that the final scenes consisted of a nuclear bomb being dropped on these four characters, I’d say that the ensuing radiation poisoning was a gift for their neighbors who probably spent their lives shutting their windows to drown out the fighting.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Los Angeles Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.