by Dan DeMaggio
I think the producers of We Don’t Live Here Anymore should have set aside any artistic pretension and just called this movie Four Assholes In Need Of A Beating. Because when you peel away all the autumnal moodiness, lip-quivering, eye-darting close-ups, boozy confessions and Edward Albee-wannabe emotional warfare, you are left with four of the most grating, infantile, pseudo-intellectual creeps since The Big Chill romanced a yuppie-nation a couple of decades ago. Based on some short stories from Andre Dubus (whose fiction inspired the far-superior In The Bedroom in 2001), the movie bounces from fuck-scene to fight-scene and back to fuck-scene, handsomely dressed in too-easily lampooned constructs of modern American fiction: college professors in deep existential crisis who torture their wives with either their simpering, spineless trespasses or cold, impassive neglect. The poor babies haven’t published their novels yet or fucked enough of their students or can’t get away from the memories of (insert sibling’s name here) who drowned as a small child, and now they drink too much, wear a lot of corduroy and lapse into interior monologues about Tolstoy and the misshapen ugliness of their genitals. Blechh!
This is the ground from which We Don’t Live Here Anymore blooms. A soap opera all gussied up as a “thoughtful” exploration of two couples whose infidelities and casual mendacity leads them to self-actualization, heartache, and the publication of a shitty poem in the New Yorker. Jack (Mark Ruffalo) is married to Terry (Laura Dern) but is screwing Edith (Naomi Watts) on the side. Edith is married to Jack’s colleague and running partner, Hank (Peter Krause). Hank, an unapologetic adulterer, is hitting on Jack’s wife whenever the couples get together to drink wine and dance like epileptic ballerinas, as nauseatingly illustrated in the opening scene of the film. (In slow motion, no less. How delectably arty!)
Hank doesn’t love Edith, so he barely notices her absence when she’s off getting nailed by the oh-so-troubled Jack, who is pretty sure he doesn’t love his wife either. Terry, bored and unloved, drinks during the day and doesn’t clean the house and occasionally throws things at Jack’s head. Edith, glib and cynical about her broken marriage vows, is none too concerned about getting caught. Jack is equally unfazed by any potential discovery of this affair. Hank whiles away the days pinning rejection slips for his novel (get this), Alright Already, on a bulletin board and lecherously singling out his female creative writing students for a little unofficial tutoring. Jack, a professor at the very same college, finds time to jog and drink beer and exchange pithy declarations with Hank when he’s not doing the scruffy prof’s old lady. Did I mention both couples have children? A lovelier bunch of amoral dopes you will not find.
Things do come to a head eventually, with angry words and vengeance-fucking and soulful bike rides in the countryside. It’s too bad that the main characters are college professors and most likely of a liberal bent that eschews gun ownership, because you will just be itching for these devilish rascals to start blowing each other away by film’s end. Barring that satisfaction, you’ll have to derive the lesser pleasure: that these people deserve each other and the only opportunity you’ll ever have to meet them again is in the pages of a John Updike novel, which, like this film, I strongly urge you to avoid.
Showing at the Main Art Theatre, 118 N. Main, Royal Oak. Call 248-263-2111.
Dan DeMaggio writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.