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Film Review Archive


We Don't Live Here Anymore
Reviewed by Carla Freccero
Broadcast 8/31/04 and 9/1/04

We Don't Live Here Anymore, directed by John Curran, and The Village, directed by M. Knight Shyamalan, seem an unlikely pair to compare but, surprisingly, they seem to have quite a few things in common. One movie tracks marriage's domestic dystopia in an idyllic setting in two couples who are also friends; the other portrays a group of families and friends turning away from what they think of as the dystopia of the outside world to create a utopian community. Both films explore the human cruelty that is inadvertent but no less cruel for being so, and both try to propose some solutions.

Don't get me wrong; they are very different. The Village was one of the summer's expensive big screen movies by a director who's made a name for himself doing highish-brow horror. It has a gimmick, its premises are highly implausible, and its solutions and resolutions are a bit too pat. We Don't Live Here Anymore, by contrast, is stark, realistic to the point of inducing emotional nausea, and ends as dystopically, I think, as it begins. It's a serious indie, but maybe too humorless and hopeless for these times when, after all, we already know that the couple form is bankrupt.

Frankly, I enjoyed The Village more than I did We Don't Live Here, but sadly, though the former has consummate actors like Sigourney Weaver, it just didn't give any of its actors room to perform, and William Hurt kept losing his fake early Puritan accent. I couldn't tell whether the director wanted us to know from the very beginning that this wasn't quite the early American village society we thought, or whether the performers just weren't up to the task. We Don't Live Here, by contrast, features one command performance, Laura Dern's. Dern has performed powerfully and persuasively in every movie she's ever been in and I wonder why she's not in more. She has not aged seamlessly, and perhaps that explains some of it. The others, however, just don't manage to convince us. I couldn't imagine why Dern's character loved her husband, played by Mark Ruffalo. He's obnoxious, passive aggressive and loathsome to behold. Likewise, Naomi Watts, who plays his love interest, is a cipher. Luminously beautiful, she remains utterly unfathomable and near characterless throughout the tale.

It's interesting that these two very different films, each exploring how people manage the dystopic conditions under which we live, do not "resolve" the issues or propose happy endings. They seem uneasy, cautious, and skeptical about our ability to repair the ways in which the world and we are damaged. The Village thinks about this problem as a social problem, a problem of community; We Don't Live Here, instead, thinks about it as a problem at the heart of the heterosexual nuclear family. Maybe we are moving into less cheery, more thoughtful times after all. Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.