We Don't Live Here Anymore Review

Intense, bitter films about infidelity and relationship break-ups seem to be in vogue at the minute, notably with Closer making its way onto UK screens this weekend. Scripted by Larry Gross from stories by Andre Dubois (In The Bedroom), John Curran’s 2004 film charts a similar four-person dynamic, the fracturing of relationships and the resultant damage caused.

Jack (Mark Ruffalo) and Terry (Laura Dern) have reached a stage in their marriage where life has settled into a particular rhythm where they are always struggling to keep up and, with two kids, their relationship has nowhere else to go – at least as far as Jack is concerned. Their friends Edith (Naomi Watts) and Hank (Peter Krause) are going through a similar crisis, are bored with each other and no longer even care if the other person is having an affair, although they both feign ignorance of the facts. And the facts are that Jack has been carrying on an affair with Edith, while Hank has been making passes at Terry. Feeling guilt at his own infidelity, Jack pushes Edith towards Hank, but are all the couples prepared to handle the fall-out from the consequences of where this dangerous situation will lead?

We Don’t Live Here Anymore offers us clearly defined character types and marks out reasonably well the dynamic that is going to break them apart. Jack and Hank are friends, both are teachers of literature and creative writing, but both have different needs and ways of dealing with them. Hank is a failing writer waiting for a big break, hoping for just that one letter from a publisher that isn’t a rejection. His wife Edith has abandoned her own needs to support this fragile ego, which has no time for her any longer and when Hank does want sex, there are plenty of opportunities for a handsome lecturer with admiring students. Jack still loves his wife and children, but the excitement and desire is no longer there in their relationship which is too defined by a struggle to keep-up with expenses, looking after the children and eating the right food. Both Jack and Edith therefore have a need to escape and find again the excitement and passionate thrill that is missing in their lives, a common need that draws them togther.

While the central infidelity between Jack and Edith is well-defined, the dynamic of the other relationships between the four people is less convincing. The relationship between Jack and Hank is captured in them going out jogging together – Jack struggling to keep up and a slave to his urges (cigarettes as much as women), where Hank is controlled and deals with his struggles with an apparently effortless calm. The relationship between the two women is drawn in an even more heavy-handed manner – a shot of Edith receiving a cheque for $5,000 from her mother is juxtaposed with Terry’s credit card being refused at a store (which only reiterates Hank’s earlier assistance of Jack in purchasing a lobster). The film tries to show their common bond in motherhood and the need to protect their children from their disintegrating marriages, but this is barely touched upon and then only in the most elementary of terms. The relationship between Terry and Hank is also given little screen time other than being talked about and being a further catalyst for the break-ups. It consequently feels more like a symmetrical plot device than the couple being drawn or pushed together by their common cuckolded circumstances. Elsewhere, the film frequently makes the same mistake of talking rather than showing. In that typically North American way everyone talks about their feelings, gets in touch with their emotions and expresses their anger, frustration and anxiety – telling the other person, and by extension the viewer, about how miserable they are and how they need to take whatever happiness comes their way. Worse than that, due to the sparsity of any real development in the plot and lack of depth in characterisation, the film often shows and tells, just to fill-out its thin premise and make doubly sure the viewer doesn’t miss the inferences of the frequent shots of a railway crossing with flashing red lights.

In this respect We Don’t Live Here Anymore doesn’t offer any great insights into the complex area of relationships, focussing really only on one aspect – the area where relationships break down – and there it is bitter, brutal and realistic, although surprisingly not in any greatly dramatic or even literate way, which is disappointing considering the film’s literary source. There is not enough time given to show what once may have been good in the relationships, in order for their break-up to mean anything much – right from the start of the film, you are more accustomed to seeing Jack with Edith more than his wife. To further the one-note bleakness of the situation, the film doesn’t even show any positive aspects of a loving relationship or even a passionate sexual relationship between each of the errant partnerships. They are both fuelled by self-need and revenge-seeking, while being further tainted the guilt of the infidelity. The affairs therefore become nothing more than an exercise in manipulation, in pushing buttons, each person searching for reactions, validations and justifications for their own behaviour. None of this adds up to anything more than you would expect – rows, arguments and break-ups – and none of it is particularly fresh, original or interesting.

The DVD reviewed is a Canadian Region 1 edition which includes a Quebec French dub.

The 2.35:1 widescreen picture is transferred anamorphically and looks well. There is a nice grain texture and a pleasant softness, the image nevertheless remaining clear and detailed, with accurate colour tones. There is the occasional flicker of compression artefacts, but nothing too troublesome.

The film rarely has use for the surround features of the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, remaining mainly to the front, but with good stereo separation. It’s a duller, echoing, natural sounding audio mix rather than being crystal clear, but it suits the film. There are a lot of background sounds, kids playing, clothes rustling, footsteps and creaks of floorboards. Occasionally dialogue is dull and muffled – particularly the quiet flat intonation of Peter Krause, but in the main the audio is clear and detailed.

English subtitles are provided as well as Spanish and French subtitles. They are optional and clearly readable, appearing within the 2.35:1 picture frame.

Theatrical Trailer (2:28)
The trailer effectively encapsulates the whole tone and purpose of the film concisely without the tedium of the full length of the film.

At the end of the day, We Don’t Live Here Anymore is a straightforward relationship drama and it’s not a particularly good one at that. The scope of its look into relationships is narrow – focussing solely on the bitterness that can exist between couples and how each person deals with it – which as a subject is not necessarily a bad thing if it were a Closer-like look at the fractured dynamic between four people – but neither the script nor the characters here are strong enough to keep the viewer interested in their situation, which is mundane and tedious. Moreover, all the characters fall into a particular, easily identifiable category or behavioural pattern, which is studiously dramatised and neatly packaged, finding not terribly original ways to dress-up the fact that the film is empty of any real purpose or insight. There’s none of the oblique intangibility of the Asian outlook which seems to be able to handle this kind of material more realistically – the lyrical beauty of the pain and suffering of the relationship break-up in Hur Jin-Ho’s One Fine Spring Day or the unflinching bitterness of Zhang Yuan’s I Love You for example. The film does have strong performances from some of the cast (notably from Mark Ruffalo) and if you like your intense emotional dramas conventionally packaged We Don’t Live Here Anymore is well-made and looks beautiful on this DVD release.

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