‘I Do… Until I Don’t’ does not live up to its vows
Written/directed by: Lake Bell
Starring: Lake Bell, Ed Helms, Paul Reiser, Mary Steenburgen, Wyatt Cenac, Amber Heard, and Dolly Wells
“I Do… Until I Don’t” – Traditional wedding vows commonly contain the phrase, “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”
Of course, that last portion encapsulates the permanent union – during earthly years, anyway - between two people, and that is the center of Vivian’s (Dolly Wells) criticism. She’s a filmmaker and self-help provocateur who believes that marriage should be a seven-year contract, with a renewal option. Anchoring in Vero Beach, Fla. for a number of weeks, Vivian is shooting a new documentary and looking for some subjects to prove her thesis: marriage is not an enduring institution.
After a short while, three couples organically appear before her camera, as writer/director Lake Bell’s new comedy, “I Do… Until I Don’t”, explores the pairs’ struggles. Bell constructs her comedy like a 103-minute episode of “Love, American Style” or “The Love Boat”, and those particular television programs featured various couples who grapple with cohabitation difficulties and – in the end - generally solve their problems or sometimes come to a conclusion of separating. Although audiences regularly flocked to these aforementioned shows from 1969 to 1973 and 1977 to 1987, respectively, looking back, these programs resembled mundane junk food during the bell-bottom and polyester eras. Regrettably, as this film treads – minute by minute – through familiar domestic difficulties, the parallels between TV melodrama and events on the big screen become painfully evident.
Harvey (Paul Reiser) and Cybil (Mary Steenburgen) are coping with emotional pain. Actually, they suffer from boredom, because after 30-plus years of marriage, they don’t feel any sort of amorous overtures for one another any longer. As an example, Cybil grants permission for her husband to experience a questionable massage parlor event rather than endure a romantic evening at home. Meanwhile, Noah (Ed Helms) and Alice (Bell) grapple with financial pressures and feel stressed about trying to start a family. Lastly, Zander (Wyatt Cenac) and Fanny (Amber Heard) round out the featured pairs, and they appear to be faring quite well – as the lone unmarried couple – however, he wishes to further strengthen their bond.
The film sometimes bonds with the audience during various disagreements between the characters, either in the privacy of their own homes or in front of Vivian’s camera. Sometimes, their verbal jousts feel improvisational, and these veteran actors deliver relationship banter with the ease. Reiser – who spent seven seasons with Helen Hunt in “Mad About You” - seems quite at home in this environment, and he is a welcome member of the cast, at least to this critic. As a side note, producers and casting directors should take notice and feature this very capable 60-year-old in more projects.
Steenburgen, Bell and Helms are good copilots here too, but the material and pacing are problems. Right away, Bell throws so many issues on the screen, especially with Alice and Noah’s circumstances, we never get enough time to emotionally invest in these characters. Sure, empathy exists, but it always seems at an arm’s-length, while the narrative continually rotates between the three stories and Vivian’s villainous turn to see the three relationships go bust.
Zander and Fanny share the least amount of issues and have the smallest chance to see their connection blow up, but their hippie personas borderline on cartoonish, so the intended humor does not register and seems ham-handed at best. Throw in two more characters in the picture’s third act via a very, very overused plot device, and “I Do… Until I Don’t” finally crashes during its crowded crescendo. Truly, there is nothing particularly terrible or completely unwatchable about Bell’s follow-up to “In a World…” (2013), but it feels tired, congested and cliché, like an uninspired, 40-year-old television show.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.