By Alan Scherstuhl
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Laura Dern has certainly played her share of head cases, but in John Curran's marital roundelay We Don't Live Here Anymore, her character is quite different from the frisky corrupted-naïf roles she's most famous for. In the film, fellow former David Lynch ingenue Naomi Watts handles the more typically Dern-like role of "other woman" Edith, while Dern herself plumbs the depths of acrimony as Terry, a wife dealing with her husband's affair. Waxing nostalgic for the relationship movies of the '70s, Dern says she finds Anymore reminiscent of Mike Nichols's Carnal Knowledge. "It's more rare now, at least in the U.S., to find those human portrayals of crisis with such flawed protagonists as leads," she says. Though Anymore's fight scenes between Terry and hubby Jack (Mark Ruffalo) have a Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?-like rhythm, the requisite spousal swipes are more realistically ham-handed. The dialogue, says Dern, shows how angry communication is often illogical. "Things get so fragmented that the answers aren't clear," she says. "From moment to moment there's a completely different trajectory in terms of what they're talking about."
In the course of Anymore, Terry moves from willful ignorance to provisional acceptance of Jack's affair, even having her own fling with Edith's husband (Peter Krause). Terry's tryst, Dern believes, is a desperate attempt to create balance. She says, "Women have always tried to mold themselves into what's going to make a marriage work. I love that she tries out this thing she thinks Jack wants, to relieve his guilt, or to fit into this new structure that they've created through this affair." In her own work, Dern says, "the theme I keep coming back to is that of a woman struggling to find her own voice," adding, "I'm really interested in people who don't necessarily utilize their voice with great dignity." When asked about Anymore's exploration of the ways that rage can contort the face, stiffen the body, and make a person unattractive to a lover, Dern (whose own 2000 breakup with boyfriend Billy Bob Thornton played out in the tabloids) reflects that in lovers' quarrels, one is often still "trying to accommodate the other person by not seeming jealous or impossible. You're stuck because you want to seem attractive and like someone they would want to stay with."
A veteran of dark comedies like Rambling Rose and Citizen Ruth, Dern says she's noted that some of Anymore's most intense moments have resulted in a kind of protective laughter from audiences. At a recent screening, she says, "People were laughing at Terry falling apart, at her mess of a house, at her screaming over the kids. But that's because we've all been there. . . . This is the humor of familiarity."
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