Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Mark Ruffalo, Laura Dern, Peter Krause, Naomi Watts
Written by: Larry Gross, based on short stories by Andre Dubus
Directed by: John Curran
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content and language
Running Time: 101
Date: 01/20/2004
IMDB

We Don't Live Here Anymore (2004)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Adultery Education

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This new film boasts four top-notch actors giving terrific performances as two cheating married couples, and excellent writing, based on short stories by Andre Dubus -- whose work also inspired Todd Field's Oscar-nominated In the Bedroom. And yet We Don't Live Here Anymore just doesn't click. I've pondered it and pondered it and I just can't work out why.

Living in a New England college town, Jack (Mark Ruffalo) teaches literature and his wife Terry (Laura Dern) is a stay-at-home mom, who can't ever seem to catch up with the horrendous amount of cleaning her house requires. Meanwhile, Hank (Peter Krause) teaches writing while working on his own magnum opus and his wife Edith (Naomi Watts) keeps her home immaculate so that her genius husband can work in peace.

It's not long before Jack and Edith are sneaking off to the woods to make love, and director John Curran can't resist making the scene playful; Watts acts coyly sexy as she strips for her illegitimate lover. Jack seems confused by his double life, but doesn't act on it. Meanwhile, we learn that Hank considers cheating part of his normal routine. He does it because it feels good; we see him in one scene unsuccessfully trying to seduce one of his female students. We also learn that he eventually sleeps with Terry, bringing about a full-scale, four-way emotional battle.

I haven't read Dubus' original stories, but I suspect that the writer merely observes his characters without commenting on their behavior. Add that to the fact that they probably have some kind of interior monologue explaining or justifying their actions -- at least to themselves. Here, though, Curran doesn't seem to know any more than his confused protagonists where he's coming from or where he's going. This is one of those films that makes you wonder how and why it was ever made. What did the director tell his investors and his actors? Was he bluffing? Maybe he thought some idea or through-line would emerge as he worked.

It didn't. We Don't Live Here Anymore is a pointless, unpleasant film that no doubt could have gone deeper but only scratches the surface. It could have pulled back the rock to reveal the squirmy things living underneath, but instead all we get is the rock.

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