Like the movie's title, there doesn't appear to be anybody home in this picture.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

"We Don't Live Here Anymore" is the quintessential "little" picture that most big-name stars try to find at least once in their careers. In 2001 Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson found such a film in the screen adaptation of an Andre Dubus story, retitled "In the Bedroom." It won favor with critics and public alike. In 2004 Mark Ruffalo, Laura Dern, Peter Krause, and Naomi Watts hoped also to find such a film in the writings of Andre Dubus, their film called "We Don't Live Here Anymore," and based not on one, but two of Dubus's stories. I mean, how could the newer film lose? It featured twice as many stars and was adapted from twice as many stories as "In the Bedroom."

It lost anyway.

Costing less money to make, $3,000,000, than most stars earn from a single contract, the film recouped only $2,000,000 at the box office. Was it the film's fault? Not exactly. I'd say it was more like the script's fault, because the acting is really rather good. Of course, the subject matter, the deterioration of the main characters' marriages, isn't exactly blockbuster material, either.

Like "In the Bedroom," you could describe "We Don't Live Here Anymore" as one those slice-of-life pictures that attempts to show us what real life, true life, mature, adult life, is really like. But unlike "In the Bedroom," which included some serious tension and suspense (even if it got a little melodramatic toward the end), there is nothing more to "We Don't Live Here Anymore" than two unfaithful, rancorous couples fighting with and cheating on one another. It doesn't make for much of a fun time for the audience, nor is it in any way a edifying or enlightening experience. The film's attempts at honesty are nobly presented, but realism alone doesn't always make for the most gripping of stories, especially when none of the characters are in the least bit sympathetic.

The movie involves the interactions of four people, best friends in their early thirties, who have each been married to the same spouse for about ten years. Jack and Terry Linden are played by Ruffalo and Dern; Hank and Edith Evans are played by Krause and Watts. Their similarities are almost uncanny. The two men are college English teachers, Jack in literature and Hank in creative writing. Both men wear identical three or four-day growths of stubble, which indicates maybe their stylishness, maybe their intellectualism, or maybe their laziness to shave. How do male characters in movies always manage to maintain their facial hair at exactly the same length of stubble day after day? Their wives are both homemakers with several young children that are indistinguishable. Both couples live in older houses that look alike. Do you think the filmmakers are going to make a point of all this?

The time setting is the present, but the couples play music from old vinyl LPs, reinforcing either their dependence on the past or their snobbery about modern technology. Since the publishing date for the Dubus short story collection on which the movie is based is dated 1984, maybe the filmmakers were trying to have it both ways, past and present. I couldn't say why. Also, the place setting is the state of Washington, according the license plates on the cars shown, but except for a brief snowstorm that underlines a particularly dismal moment in the story line, the sun shines continuously. Go figure. Must be some Washington state in an alternate dimension.

Anyway, the thing about these best-friend couples is that each of them is making it with the other person's spouse. They don't know this at first, but they catch on really fast. The "why" of the affairs isn't hard to figure out for the audience, either. The husbands, so much alike physically, are also alike emotionally. Both of them are jerks who cannot or will not show their wives any genuine affection. Jack is attracted to Edith because he doesn't think Terry is the wife she used to be. Hank is attracted to Terry because he's so horny he's interested in every woman he meets, including, apparently, some of his female students. Edith is attracted to Jack because she's tired of Hank's constant infidelities. And Terry is attracted to Hank in retaliation for Jack's indiscretions. Are you following this? I'm not sure I am.

Besides, wasn't this already done in the sixties, better and with humor, in "Bob & Carol & Ted & and Agatha & All the Rest of the Gang"? That movie appeared to make some sort of point. Here I see little beyond the obvious. Jack and Terry and Hank and Edith make love and argue, make love and hold in their frustrations, then make love and vent their anger. For what? The pace is slow and dreary; the dialogue is slow and dreary; the soundtrack music is slow and dreary; even the children's monotone speech patterns are slow and dreary.

The movie is properly rated R for its frank language and sexual situations. Yet the language seems forced, the characters using profanity in almost every sentence they utter. And the sex is simply sterile. Maybe that's part of the film's message; that too many people lead pointless, sterile lives filled with the pointless filth of their own creation. I don't know. At one juncture in the story, Edith says she's just been to the zoo, where she watched a gorilla lick its own hand of excrement. She says the zoo is depressing because the animals are trapped. The filmmakers are laying it on a bit thick with the metaphors here, but we certainly get the idea that these people are, indeed, trapped in unhappy circumstances and wallowing in their own waste. However, I don't find this idea particularly new or profound.

The movie must be given credit for its serious depiction of lives in the process of ruin, but to what purpose is another question. Finally, Terry has to admit that "even adultery has morality to it," a somewhat obscure line that seems to hint of some bigger revelation, which never comes.

Is there any resolution to the characters' dilemma? No. Is this realistic? Yes. Is it satisfying? No. Is it insightful? No. Like the movie's title, there doesn't appear to be anybody home in this picture.

It's more excellent picture quality from Warner Bros. thanks to a high bit rate and an enhanced, anamorphic transfer. The screen size measures a generous 2.17:1 ratio across my standard-screen HD television, a ratio closely matching the movie's 2.35:1 theatrical exhibition size, a little less wide due to a bit of loss in the transfer itself and a modern TV's overscanning.

The picture's colors are beautifully rendered, rich and deep on all counts, with solid blacks to set it all off. Detail is good in most areas, especially in bright shots, deteriorating only slightly in darker scenes. There is a small degree of blur present, nothing much, and some minor grain in indoor, nighttime footage, but virtually no shimmering lines.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio reproduction is also quite good. There is an exemplary stereo spread across the front speakers, the tiniest bit of musical ambiance enhancement directed toward the surrounds, and a smooth balance of frequences all the way around. When needed, there are good frequency extremes, too, and some solid punch to the dynamics. It's a shame there is not much more for the DD 5.1 to do than convey dialogue, but for this purpose alone, it does its job nicely.

Understandably (for a small, independent movie), there are practically no extras on the disc. What we get are three widescreen theatrical trailers for other small movies, one for "We Don't Live Here Anymore," one for "A Home at the End of the World," and one for "Before Sunset"; plus twenty-three scene selections. English and French are provided for spoken languages; English, French, and Spanish for subtitles.

Parting Shots:
No doubt life is complicated, and interpersonal relationships and sex are among its biggest difficulties. But a good story has to provide more than the commonplace. It needs intriguing characters, unexpected character developments, stimulating dialogue, informative themes, or creative plot twists to keep us interested. The present movie does little of the above.

The only word I can think of to describe "We Don't Live Here Anymore" is "somber." From beginning to end the movie is dull and drab. It never lets up. The lovemaking is somber, the fights are somber, the conversations are somber, even the kids are somber. It's a wonder these two couples have been together for as long as they have; I don't think I could have stood their relationship another minute.


Film Value