Marriage is an institution, the old joke goes, and who wants to live in an institution? Well, lots of people, apparently, but they don't have to like it. The two couples that inhabit We Don't Live Here Anymore ' a pair of smalltown English professors and their stay-athome wives ' are still young and attractive. In fact, they're played by young and attractive Hollywood actors: Mark Ruffalo, Laura Dern, Peter Krause and Naomi Watts. But wouldn't you know it, the love has been leaking out of their marriages, forming little pools next to the kitty-litter box. And two of them, Ruffalo and Watts, have begun an affair, meeting in the woods for sex and consolation. How long before the other two do the same?
A chamber piece, We Don't Live Here Anymore gives each character his or her own reasons for straying, the separate lives woven together contrapuntally. Ruffalo has the seven- year itch. He loves his wife, but she's been around too long, nursing her grievances. Krause has the seven-minute itch. He loves his wife, but there are all those other lovable women ' his students, for example. Watts loves her husband, but she knows he can't be faithful for more than seven minutes, so she starts the affair with Ruffalo out of spite and loneliness. And, in a strange way, it's good for her, empowers her, evens the score. As for Dern, she loves her husband, but she's afraid she's losing him, and maybe an affair with Krause is the only way to get his attention.
Those are what we might call the official motivations. To the movie's credit, we also sense deeper, unofficial motivations. Ruffalo and Krause,who are supposedly best friends, may be engaged in an alpha-male rivalry that neither of them recognizes. And their wives may be but pawns in their game. One of the strengths of We Don't Live Here Anymore is that it doesn't try to explain or resolve everything. It simply sets the characters in motion and sees where they wind up ' seems to do that, anyway. And the actors have done an admirable job of stripping away whatever Hollywood glamour might have adhered to them. Dern, in particular, captures the ugliness of marital discord, her face crumpling like a piece of wadded-up paper.
Not everybody wants to watch a movie about ailing, flailing marriages. But for those who do, We Don't Live Here Anymore offers a no-holds-barred account of what happens not long after couples have promised to have and to hold, for richer or poorer, through sickness and health, 'til deathly boredom do them part.