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Overall Rating

Awesome: 7.27%
Worth A Look: 25.45%
Just Average29.09%
Pretty Crappy: 23.64%
Sucks: 14.55%

7 reviews, 13 user ratings

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We Don't Live Here Anymore
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by Brad Wilber

"'Take my wife, please!'"
2 stars

In recent years Andre Dubus’s fiction has been adapted for the screen to haunting, powerful effect with IN THE BEDROOM and HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG. It’s no mental workout to imagine that some filmmaker with art-house aspirations might choose to dip his bucket into the Dubus well. 2004’s WE DON’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE is actually drawn from two linked Dubus stories, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that the film is doubly as good as its predecessors—half as good is more like it. The theme here is adultery among friends, and though some writer-director combinations have wrung a perverse sort of lyricism out of this particular connubial calamity, it’s definitely a well-worn Hollywood path strewn with failures. Director John Curran and screenwriter Larry Gross are clearly trying for an edgy, evolved take on the “glimpse-at-marriages-in-freefall” thing, but we end up feeling sorry we were a fly on the bedroom wall for this squalid (ahem) affair.

Jack Linden (Mark Ruffalo) and Hank Evans (Peter Krause—rhymes with “yowzah,” if you please) are colleagues on the literature faculty at the local college. Jack is married to Terry (Laura Dern), and Hank is married to Edith (Naomi Watts), but the pairings are apparently subject to change without notice. Jack and Edith are already trysting regularly as the movie opens, and Hank and Terry, when left together and prodded along by drink, are inching toward some illicit activity of their own. Edith seems almost eager to tell Hank. “He won’t care!” she says. Hank does have a track record of infidelity himself and refuses to lose any sleep over it: “Love your wife, love your kids, keep the peace at home, and once in a while go [bleep] someone else because it feels good. For all you know, your wife may be living according to these same principles.” Jack, meanwhile, says he wants to keep everything from Terry, but when Terry opens up to him about being nuzzled by Hank on her own front porch, Jack raises her suspicions by pestering her for a play-by-play. Terry and Hank both know about their spouses’ subterfuge on some level, so we’re not waiting for revelation so much as reaction—will Terry and Hank go all the way simply as payback?

Part of what makes BEDROOM and SAND AND FOG so successful is that they roll out detail-rich backstories on the major characters and then let the toxic tangle of misguided motivations and dire external forces gain momentum in an inexorable tumble toward oblivion. By contrast, we can’t see anybody in ANYMORE as a tragic victim of circumstance. The downward trajectory could be stopped at any point if any of the ignoble parties simply grew up, zipped their pants, and put someone else’s interests first. Plus, it’s hard to tell what they’re getting out of the whole experiment. The sex depicted here is urgent but is always utterly joyless; when Jack and Edith flash back to it they either vomit or cry. Redemptive backstory is nil: the movie begins in medias res but never retraces any of the history between the couples. We’re supposed to think the foursome is close-knit, but even at the end of the film, we have to guess at what impact the curtailed affairs will have. Can the friendships withstand the damage? Does any member of the quartet consider them worth saving? We aren’t given the sense of a reservoir of past goodwill that anyone could draw from, or indelible marks now left on people that would allow us to fast-forward our imaginations into their future (the other two films really left a mark!) So the ending is just a somewhat arbitrary juncture at which the audience is asked to leave—not a thumper of a finale at which the audience must stifle sobs, collect their wits, and stumble out into the night.

The filmmakers also seem to drop the ball by allowing scenes of significant dramatic potential to take place off-camera. We are denied the initial breach of protocol between Hank and Terry at the beginning as well as the “What do we do now?” conference between the two open-eyed wives near the end. The contents thereof are summarized for us later on. (In fact, to our great loss, Dern never has a scene alone with either Krause or Watts). This is not generating subtext, people—it’s copping out. ANYMORE spends heaps of time on the duplicitous logistics of Jack and Edith, and when we find out that secrecy was not all that necessary, we feel the time has been wasted. Why not give us more of the parent-child dynamics (yes, there are very cute but confused children involved here) and more traversal of the mechanics of the marriages, rather than the betrayals?

When Adrian Lyne made UNFAITHFUL, he said it was a statement that adultery can indeed just happen, even in a loving, highly functional marriage—it need not be a symptomatic gesture. It wasn’t a statement I bought, but I wouldn’t have missed Diane Lane’s performance for the world. Here, I was in much the same boat. ANYMORE presents characters who dispassionately dissect adultery as a legitimate expression of need or as a cure for complacency; to me that’s not a “sophisticated” treatment, just a nonsensical one. But submitting to the film gave me the chance to celebrate a rewarding comeback by Laura Dern. I don’t remember her having a meaty role in a theatrical release since OCTOBER SKY (1999), so it’s a pleasure to see her again and know she has several high-profile projects in the pipeline. Dern benefits from playing the best-written character of the four, and the one who seems to embody the most, shall we say, traditional response to the goings-on: rage, dismay, and bouts of stone-faced depression. Terry is a woman clinging to her place in the world and to her understanding of the boundaries of a domestic partnership, and Dern bristles with incredulity through multiple loads of laundry and manic cleaning binges.

The other actors are better than the material, too, but if you’ve read me this far, you’ll recognize a dubious compliment. With Ruffalo and Dern playing the heart-on-the-sleeve couple, Naomi Watts and Peter Krause face the task of providing contrast and come through rather well: Hank and Edith keep things as serene and dutiful as possible given the undercurrents. Watts has never looked more like Marcia Brady than here, but the idea of a lurid riff on that persona has its tantalizing aspects. Krause plays Hank as the most solicitous of the group, so that we almost forgive him his coarse philosophies.

I continue to wait for the film that will “sell” me on the genius of Mark Ruffalo. Certainly I think he is a worthy talent: he did everything one could want with the black-sheep role in YOU CAN COUNT ON ME, he contributed more-than-cookie-cutter cops to IN THE CUT and COLLATERAL, and he was a deliciously harried techie in ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND. But when he is called upon to occupy the center of a relationship drama (XX/XY, MY LIFE WITHOUT ME, etc.), he can seem a bit listless—backing away from the risk of a truly combustible connection with an acting partner and a shade too deficient in vocal élan and kinetic freedom to take the reins of a scene. Here Ruffalo must play a classroom lecturer and a paterfamilias, and he does not fully inhabit either—there is still too much of Laura Linney’s slouchy brother. It doesn’t help that the story is so inattentive to creating any real aura of academe about the men’s lives or personalities or modes of self-expression. (Maybe the director considered their galloping narcissism sufficient characterization of an academic). It also doesn’t help that Jack is someone you don’t really care to listen to, or that Ruffalo is so often paired with Ms. Dern in full flight. Midway through the movie, I sat up and thought, “Oh, Laura just had her best scene yet!” She had shared the screen only with a plumber, whose portrayer was merely sympathetic, present, and willing to make eye contact.

I spent some time during the film wondering what would have been the result if Ruffalo and Krause had swapped roles (everything else is swapped here, after all). Thanks to “Six Feet Under,” Krause has had long experience and considerable success with humanizing the tightly-wound accusatory exchanges Jack must navigate. Ruffalo may have been more suited to Hank’s more muted frustrations and his emotional detachment. But Ruffalo saves his best for the last half-hour of the film, and let’s face it, without a new script nothing could have made me give a darn about the outcome.

While I’m complaining, I’d like to see some vocal coach somewhere take Peter Krause aside and get him to tone down his surfer-dude vowels. Yes, he’s brought me to tears dozens of times in “SFU” and deserves all his acclaim, and I’m sorry if that’s his “real voice,” but it just bugs me. And wouldn’t it be nice to have a middle-class domestic drama that is alcohol-free but where sobriety is not a plot point? Where half-full wine glasses are off-limits as props and invitations to imbibe cannot be used as throwaway lines?

Laura Dern’s participation in ANYMORE almost tipped the scales in favor of a third star, but I can’t quite do it. Close to the end of the movie, in response to the age-old question, “Why are you and Mommy fighting?” Jack says, “It’s all just adult foolishness.” Finally, he’s said a mouthful.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=8536&reviewer=395
originally posted: 12/16/04 17:06:34
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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.

User Comments

5/27/07 richard ...haha..garden state and napoleon dynamite..."far wittier, original pieces" please stop. 5 stars
11/09/05 Phil M. Aficionado The cast made this "more real feeling" than the story deserved to be; Just an OK film. 3 stars
7/18/05 steandric great film with great acting, especially from oscar-nominee naomi watts. 5 stars
7/09/05 Charlene Javier Brooding. 3 stars
6/12/05 lindy03 by the end of the film, does anyone give a damn? 1 stars
5/28/05 Strutho remove sharp items from your person before entering the cinema, you want to cut your wrists 1 stars
5/04/05 Indrid Cold Intelligent, detailed portrait of adultery; not a surprise that it's quite unentertaining. 3 stars
1/01/05 MyGreenBed Good acting, realistic situations (for desperate 35 yr old married folk), nice visually. 4 stars
8/31/04 cruella bring your jammies, it's a snore 3 stars
8/24/04 Kacey Kowars Wonderful script, wonderful ensemble acting 5 stars
8/06/04 taxi Horrible people we don't care about in bad marriages 2 stars
7/01/04 jeffrey Worth the time just to see Naomi Watts have sex 4 stars
3/31/04 Eric Mathenson Saw this film at sundance- it was excellent, great acting, great direction. 5 stars
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  13-Aug-2004 (R)
  DVD: 14-Dec-2004



Directed by
  John Curran

Written by
  Larry Gross

  Mark Ruffalo
  Laura Dern
  Peter Krause
  Naomi Watts

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