Situated somewhere between John Updike and “Knott’s Landing,” this is a story of suburban angst and adultery, with meaningful glances, inexpressible longing, fumbled groping, and a lot of hangovers.
Two couples’ lives overlap so completely that the boundaries between them are beginning to dissolve. Jack (Mark Ruffalo) gets angry at Terry (Laura Dern) for being a poor housekeeper and drinking too much. He is having an affair with Edith (Naomi Watts), who is married to his colleague and best friend Hank (Peter Krause). We first see them at a casual, slightly boozy evening together. Jack and Edith go out to get more beer, but the real reason is some passionate kisses and a chance to make plans to meet the next day.
It is easy to feel the pull of Edith’s appeal. She has neat platinum hair and glowing porcelain skin. Her home is orderly and comfortable and brimming with light. She likes Jack a lot and never nags him about money or not paying enough attention to her. And what they have feels new and fresh to both of them. Maybe, too, there is some appeal is taking something from his close friend Hank, who has more money, a nicer house, more ambition, and, with his poem accepted by the New Yorker, more success.
Hank wants everyone to feel loved, even Edith. And if Jack loves her, it takes pressure off of him. Jack wants to feel love, and thinks he may love Edith. Terry loves Jack and wants him to love her in spite of her failings, maybe because of them. And Jack feels so guilty about not loving her the way she wants (and deserves) that he hopes she will stray so that he can feel justified.
Some will find this all hideously self-involved, but many will find it heart-breakingly poignant and insightful in that Tolstoy-esque “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” category. The direction is exceptionally thoughtful and rich with detail. The acting is superb. But for me it all became too in love with itself. Color schemes that made Edith look moonbeamy by keeping her in white and close calls with an onrushing train and children standing too close to the edge of a cliff felt heavy and suffocating instead of rich and transcendent. Yet it draws a lot of power not just from the intense intelligence behind it at every level but from the mirror quality any ambitious story about marriage offers its audience by the simple virtue of locating itself in the core of human hope and doubt. Forget about sharks and aliens. The characters in this movie may not live here anymore, but this is exactly where the rest of us live and where we fight every day to keep living.
Parents should know that this movie has extremely mature material, with very explicit sexual references and situations, including adultery, nudity, very strong language, drinking (to excess), and smoking. There are tense emotional condfrontations that may be upsetting to some viewers.
Families who see this movie should talk about why the characters find it so difficult to feel love and feel loved.
Families who appreciate this movie will also appreciate The Ice Storm, The Safety of Objects, and sex, lies, and videotape.