We Don’t Live Here Anymore certainly isn’t a fun film. You don’t go away from it feeling happy or good, except maybe when you compare yourself to the characters, as there’s a good chance that you’re a better person than all of them are. But if I were to promise joy that could be gleamed from the events that transpire within it, I would be setting you up for disappointment. This is one of those indie dramas about relationships and people treating each other poorly because they’re pursuing what they desire, putting themselves above everyone else.
The main character is Jack (Mark Ruffalo), although this is far more of an ensemble than you might think. We know he’s the main character because he has two or three scenes with voice-over narration, used in poor effect here. It reveals what he’s thinking and might provide the only genuine laughs in the film, but it offers little insight and the movie wouldn’t be any better or worse if it wasn’t included. He’s married to Terry (Laura Dern), and they even have a couple of children together. In the second scene, they’re already fighting; it’s clear that their marriage isn’t the strongest.
This might be because Jack is having an affair with Edith (Naomi Watts), who is married to Jack’s best friend, Hank (Peter Krause). Terry doesn’t know, although she suspects, and Hank feels similarly. It comes as no surprise that the guilty parties suspect their spouses of cheating as well, although they almost seem to take comfort in it. They’re cheating, and if their husband/wife is cheating as well, then it kind of justifies it. I’m not entirely sure, but that’s what it seemed like.
We move through the plot at a very deliberate pace, watching the fights between the married people and witnessing the more interesting portions involving the cheating couples. When Jack and Terry are in the same room as one another, they always fight. That’s pretty much a rule with this film. Edith and Hank are less interested in fighting, but also possibly less involved in each other as well. They take things day by day, feeling little emotion for each other. Hank is constantly at his computer trying to write, and Edith spends time with their one child, or with Jack.
Nobody treats anyone else in a manner that could be described as “nice.” One could argue that Edith is treated well by Jack, but who knows exactly what he feels for her, or what she feels for him. Using someone for their body isn’t exactly “nice” from where I’m standing. Sure, there isn’t a bunch of yelling and swearing when it comes to the pair, but does that really matter? There’s a conversation in the film that brought up whether or not you should love the person you have an affair with. I don’t think a definitive conclusion was reached, but it doesn’t really matter.
What seemed odd to me was that a large portion of the film seemed to be missing. I mentioned that Jack and Terry are constantly at war, fighting in practically every scene they share alone. This frequently ends in Jack running out the front door to avoid being speared with a piece of broken glass. But the next scene — which sometimes appears to be days later — they’re back to feeling ambivalent about each other. It’s like we’re missing the whole making up portion of the fight, so when they’re fighting again right away it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense why they stopped in the first place.
And it’s not like this couldn’t have been included. At least once, to show us exactly what happens between fights, would have helped. Instead, we get a bunch of unnecessary and repetitive scenes that seem to drag on and on even though the film doesn’t even last two hours. It certainly feels longer, in large part because it’s rare that anything important or new actually happens. These characters seem stuck, going through the same motions over and over, and it gets tiresome to watch.
Eventually, We Don’t Live Here Anymore does pick up, and it’s at this point when I started caring. It takes a long time to get there, but eventually the film’s heart shines through, and you realize that you do kind of care about these people. They’re horrible, but most of them are worthy of redemption, and you only hope they’ll eventually find it. The performances from four good actors help as well, although it’s more just the time spent with these people that eventually leads you to caring. Or perhaps feeling revolted by them. One of the two.
The film does also have a lot to say, although it’s often unclear about exactly what. Perhaps it was my own boredom through large sections, but it frequently seemed to be giving off mixed messages about exactly what the characters wanted, and more importantly, what the filmmakers wanted the audience to take from it. Like the emotional attachment, it does eventually get there — kind of — but it takes sitting through a lot of tedium to reach that point, and I’m not sure how many people are going to want to do that.
It’s hard to recommend We Don’t Live Here Anymore, largely because of how much of it feels unnecessary. It only plays for 100 minutes, but it feels a lot longer than that because of how much repetition is included. It also takes a lot longer than it should to get going and make me care, leading to a lot of boring points. It’s also frequently confused about what it wants and where it wants to go, and is difficult recommend unless you’re willing to trudge through the tedium in order to get to the good stuff.