Jack (Mark Ruffalo, "In the Cut") and Hank (Peter Krause, HBO's "Six Feet Under") are literary professors in a small college town who share more than their workplace in "We Don't Live Here Anymore."
The second adaptation from the stories of Andre Dubus shares almost nothing with its predecessor, "In the Bedroom," other than a symbolic use of lobsters. A terrific performance by Laura Dern is the sole reason to see this pretentious slog through the miserable lives of unlikable people.
Jack, whose assertion that 'I'm a reader not a writer' sums up his tendency towards passive aggression, reacts to his vague displeasure with his wife's lack of housekeeping skill and overindulgence in alcohol by guiltily engaging in an affair with his best friend's wife. Jack and Terry (Laura Dern, "I Am Sam") live a sprawling, messy life with their two young children and are under financial strain.
Hank is a preening sleaze who hits on his students and is affirmed when one of his poems is published by the New Yorker. He shows little affection to his wife Edith (Naomi Watts, "21 Grams") who compensates with a strong maternal bond with their daughter Sharon (an effectively stern Jennifer Bishop). They live in a home so immaculate it could be described as clinical.
The couples get together for drunken Friday nights which recall the far more artful inebriation of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Terry knows her marriage is in trouble and fights for it, but Jack continues to drift away emotionally, almost goading her into an affair with Hank. When the wished for inevitably happens, Jack rides his bike over to confer with Edith, like a couple of school kids sharing secrets.
As adapted by Larry Gross ("Prozac Nation") who inexplicably won Sundance's Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for this, no amount of good acting can make us care about a group of misguided people wallowing in misery of their own making. Laura Dern, however, perhaps blessed because her character is the only one with a shred of sense and moral decency, engages with her fierce portrayal of a woman fighting for her marriage. She rages and howls, her face becoming a rictus of pain as she demands an emotional response during lovemaking. She spits out the best line in the movie, 'Even adultery has its morals,' accusing her husband after being caught out herself. Ruffalo slinks about guiltily and Krause has the appropriate air of entitled self-absorption, but Watts gives a particularly wan performance as the unloved wife who betrays her best friend.
Director John Curran ("Praise") makes some weird choices trying to give his film some added weight. He punctuates the action occasionally by cutting away to a train's stop signal, perhaps meaning to symbolize stunted sexual desire. Most distasteful is his implied harm to the Levin kids and Sharon at the hands of the nurturing parent, cases of misdirection in both instances with no identifiable purpose.
"We Don't Live Here Anymore" may have all the hallmarks of indie credibility but let the buyer beware. This is the type of film that can give art house product a bad name.
Robin also gives "We Don't Live Here Anymore" a C-.
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