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‘We Don't Live Here’ saved screenwriter's soul

Gross wrote the first draft of the screenplay when he was 26 years old.
/ Source: Reuters

It has been a long, sometimes painful 26 years for writer Larry Gross and his film “We Don’t Live Here Anymore,” but when the independent movie debuts Friday, a part of his soul will have finally been saved.

The movie, which earned Gross the Sundance Film Festival’s writing award this year, was a labor of love for most of his career, but by Hollywood’s action- and effects-filled standards, its human drama of troubled marriages and infidelity failed the test of big studio commercial viability.

It wasn’t until the emergence of another independent film, 2001’s “In the Bedroom,” and four stars who would trade a big paycheck to work in “We Don’t Live Here Anymore,” that Gross’s screenplay finally felt some life breathing into it.

“This project, and a piece of my soul, were rescued by independent films,” Gross told Reuters in a recent interview.

“In the Bedroom” was significant because it is based on work by the novelist Andre Dubus, and “We Don’t Live Here Anymore,” also, is based on work by Dubus.

When the former movie, directed by Todd Fields, earned Oscar nominations for best film and for actress Sissy Spacek, suddenly every producer had to have his hand on a screenplay from Dubus’ work. Gross and his partners already had one.

“I knew ‘In the Bedroom’ would clear a field. Everybody wants to follow on the heels of something else. That’s just one of the ways (Hollywood) works,” Gross said.

Then came the stars: Mark Ruffalo, Naomi Watts, Laura Dern and Peter Krause. With a relatively small budget of $2 million, the movie was put into production.

Games people play
Ruffalo portrays Jack Linden and Laura Dern is his wife, Terry. Jack is having an affair with the wife, Edith, of his best friend, Hank Evans. Watts and Krause play Edith and Hank.

There are no special effects in the movie, and the only action that goes on is behind the other couple’s back because Jack, by having an affair with Edith, is playing mind games with Terry. He is coaxing her into having her own affair.

Hank, a struggling writer, is having his own affairs, and as a result he either doesn’t know or doesn’t particularly care what Edith is doing with her days.

As “We Don’t Live Here Anymore” plays out, audiences see the consequences — good and bad — of relationship games people play with one another.

“The stories are just incredibly truthful about the emotional needs...that apply to anyone anywhere. Everyone is a creature of needs, and those needs drive them,” Gross said.

Gross said he wrote the first draft when he was 26 years-old and has since gone on to make some of the same mistakes in his life that Jack, Terry, Edith and Frank make.

But all those errors helped him continually fine tune and craft the screenplay that earned the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance, which is named after the writer of acclaimed movies like “Coming Home,” “Serpico” and “Midnight Cowboy.”

Gross has had a successful career in Hollywood writing for both television and film with credits for “True Crime” and “Crime and Punishment in Suburbia,” among others. But “We Don’t Live Here Anymore” is especially gratifying because it is his.

“Every writer will tell you that if your own material isn’t getting made, it’s not very satisfying. The hunger to express yourself, especially the work you value, doesn’t go away,” he said.