- Hank and Edith and Jack and Terry: A bad time is had by all.
That, it turns out, would have been a good title for the movie. Though it opens with immediate, pounding conflict -- a hothouse of a party, sexy dancing, and a steamy beer run followed by screaming allegations -- we soon learn that everything is already happening, has been happening, and will continue to happen in exactly the same way for the majority of the film. Edith (Naomi Watts), Hank's wife, has fallen in love with Jack (Mark Ruffalo), Hank's best friend and the husband of her best friend, Terry (Laura Dern). As they plot their liaisons, Jack and Edith must contend with the academic summer -- in which they, their spouses, and their children are always home and expected to be home -- and with their feelings for Terry, to whom Jack feels obligated and whom Edith adores. Terry suspects them and has done so, we are given to understand, for quite some time.
What this brooding, agonized movie takes as its subject is the in-between time, the period after the adultery has begun and before it has catalyzed, or destroyed, whatever it's bound to destroy. We Don't Live Here Anymore wants to show us two marriages in the throes of domestic difficulty, foundering in the wasted terrain of broken communication and festering resentment. Its goal is admirable: the portrayal and examination of a kind of trouble that we don't usually want to see, and which is painful to confront. The problem, and it is a large one, is that there is no movement for a solid hour. What we witness is four miserable people lodged solidly in the cement of their own making, wailing and wailing for help. And nobody budges.
The actors, particularly Ruffalo and Dern, do a fine job of embodying the vicious, even violent battlefield that a neglected marriage can become. But they can't rise above a belabored script. Also, because we begin in medias res, we can't quite get a purchase on whether to root for healing or accept devastation. Should we have hope for Jack and Terry's marriage? Was it ever good? We don't see enough of Jack to know whether he is worthy of Terry and her love, or whether she would do better to find someone else. In fact, we don't see enough of any character to form an empathic connection. Their paralysis is so unattractive that, when they're accompanied by their faults, the scales tip heavily toward antipathy. We need more than we are given, if we're meant to worry over them.