Marriages of inconvenience

'We Don't Live Here Anymore' looks at lives torn by adultery

In the age of "Alien vs. Predator" and its ilk, it's encouraging to see a significant number of filmmakers - especially the independent, non-Hollywood kind - refuse to give up on the dramatic possibilities of character-driven stories about the kinds of challenges real people face in the real world.

The latest example is "We Don't Live Here Anymore," based on two novellas by Andre Dubus, whose fiction also inspired "In the Bedroom" two years ago.

Directed by John Curran with a fine ensemble cast, Larry Gross's adaptation of the title tale and a companion piece called "Adultery" follows Mr. Dubus's lead in steering away from melodrama to find the strong emotional currents flowing through the daily lives of people so ordinary they could be our next-door neighbors. Or even us.

The movie centers on two married couples who could have come from suburban central casting: Both families have kids, the wives are homemakers, the husbands are English teachers who enjoy jogging together. Their lives have intertwined for years, and they intertwine even more when the spouses start secret adulterous relationships.

This bodes poorly for their marriages, and it also raises daunting psychological questions for them as individuals. On one hand, all four have long realized their marriages aren't immune from the temptations and distractions of a society built on instant gratification and short attention spans. On the other hand, they can't help recognizing that their wandering affections expose a shallowness and immaturity at the hearts of their own personalities - a revelation that's alarming, embarrassing, and scary.

Dubus is not a deep writer, and despite the references to Leo Tolstoy that spice up Mr. Gross's screenplay, "We Don't Live Here Anymore" is not a deep movie. It is a very honest one, though - there's not a cheap cinematic trick in sight - and it's a graceful one, energizing its small-town story with eloquent camera work and ingenious musical touches.

It's interesting to compare "We Don't Live Here Anymore" with another current release, "A Home at the End of the World," adapted from Michael Cunningham's touching novel. In that movie, three gay or bisexual characters strive poignantly for domestic stability, while here four "normal" characters seem intent on squandering that very thing. Sensitive, thought-provoking movies are certainly alive and well this season.

Rated R; contains sex and vulgar language.

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