I’m still not entirely sure why writer-director-actor Lake Bell (who last helmed the appealing In A World…) chose the making of a documentary about marriage as the framework for her second film, I Do…Until I Don’t, but any movie that features Dolly Wells as a conniving doc filmmaker has a little something going for it. Much like her previous film, Bell attempts to mix light comedy with a vaguely serious statement on a subject close to her heart—in this case the useful nature of marriage in a period in history where people live to be 80 or 90 years old a lot more often. It certainly does make saying “Till death do us part” in your 30s seem a lot more like a life sentence in the eyes of Vivian (Wells), an award-winning filmmaker who is recruiting couples in Vero Beach, Florida, for her latest project. Specifically, she’s seeking couples who seem to be on the verge of breaking up.
Bell and Ed Helms plays Alice and Noah, a fairly vanilla couple with a tinge of boredom and routine creeping in as they eye becoming parents after 10 years of marriage. Amber Heard plays Fanny, Alice’s hippie sister, married to Zander (Wyatt Cenac), both of whom claim to be in an “open” marriage. Finally, there are Cybil and Harvey (Mary Steenburgen and Paul Reiser), as the couple most likely to implode in front of Vivian’s camera. The spark is sadly lacking in their coupling, and it’s been replaced by bitterness and back biting.
As a showcase for some talented and eclectic actors, I Do… functions fairly well. But as a place for insightful thoughts and feelings about the complexities of marriage, it comes up short. The film’s bigger crime is that the dialogue doesn’t resemble actual human speech. Every line sounds like a declarative statement from a pamphlet presenting a cautionary tale about marriages gone sour and the further instruction on how to fix them. Rather than give us conversations between two living, breathing people, Bell lathers on silly anecdotes meant to pass for life experiences, and the results are riddled with clichés and jokes that fall flat.
Far less engaging or amusing than In A World…, I Do… does end stronger than it has any right to, and it’s nice to see that, as Bell’s real-life experience seemed to make a pro-marriage turn as well, so does her film. But this is a subject ripe for some genuine teeth to rip into the constructs of marriage and see where the flaws and weaknesses are. Instead, her conclusion seems to be “It’s worked this long; there must be something useful about it.” Not exactly hard-hitting commentary, is it? Assuming Bell gets another film off the ground any time soon, I think that will be the truest sign of where her directing career is headed. If she lands another softball like this, then I won’t eagerly await what comes after; but if she can address an actual interpersonal construct with some vigor, she might be onto something. Time will tell.
The film opens in Chicago today at the Landmark Century Center Cinema.
To read my exclusive interview with I Do… Until I Don’t writer-director-star Lake Bell, go to Ain’t It Cool News.