Mark Reviews Movies

I Do... Until I Don't


1.5 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Lake Bell

Cast: Lake Bell, Ed Helms, Mary Steenburgen, Paul Reiser, Amber Heard, Wyatt Cenac, Dolly Wells, Connie Shin, Hannah Friedman, Chace Crawford

MPAA Rating: R (for sexual material and language)

Running Time: 1:43

Release Date: 9/1/17 (limited)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 31, 2017

With its first act, writer/director Lake Bell's I Do... Until I Don't promises a perceptive comedy about the trials of long-term romantic relationships. At a certain point, though, it gives up on such ambitions and starts to coast on a series of contrived circumstances. It's a biting, cynical comedy, until it isn't.

The change in tone and purpose arrives with the movie's sudden change in attitude about relationships. It lays on thick the problems, the resentment, the dissatisfaction, and the depressing nature of these couple's bonds, but then it seems as if Bell arbitrarily has decided to make a more uplifting and positive movie about marriage instead. She overcompensates for the earlier observations, in which one wife admits that she routinely imagines how and when it would be best to kill her husband (with a pillow in his sleep), another finds herself working in a spa of ill repute in order to repair the damage her husband has done to their finances, and the only happy couple is in an open relationship.

That's a lot of thematic ground to coverófrom a story that vehemently criticizes marriage to one that fully embraces it. Bell's approach to transitioning between the two ideas is to try to cover the distance between them with a single leap. The result is graceless, painful, and causes some uncomfortable tonal whiplash in the process.

The story follows three couples: Alice (Bell) and Noah (Ed Helms), Cybil (Mary Steenburgen) and Harvey (Paul Reiser), and Fanny (Amber Heard) and Zander (Wyatt Cenac). The mousy Alice and the inattentive Noah have been together since college. She had dreams of living and working in New York, but Noah took over the family business in his small hometown. There's talk about filing for bankruptcy.

Cybil and Harvey have been married for a few decades. He's going through a mid-life crisis, buying a motorcycle and wearing a helmet in public like some weird status symbol. She's a real estate agent who now finds more annoyances than things to respect in her husband's behavior.

Fanny, Alice's sister, and Zander aren't married. They have a six-year-old son together, live a hippie lifestyle, and sell arts and crafts projects out of their commune-style home. Things aren't going well, but it doesn't matter, because Zander is a trust-fund child.

The first two couples are miserable, and the spark to make things worse is Vivian (Dolly Wells), a British documentarian who has come up with a new way of approaching marriage. Her idea is to turn marriage into a seven-year contract with an option to renew it if the couple agrees. She's in town to make a documentary about marriage, with a bias toward couples that seem ready to call it quits or that show an alternative to tradition.

Obviously, the three aforementioned couples agree to appear in the movie. Vivian pokes and prods at their assorted insecurities and offenses, until it seems as if all of the relationships will fall apart sooner than they might have.

That's the setup, and while Bell's screenplay doesn't exactly dig into anything unique or revelatory about crumbling relationships, there is at least a bit of honesty to these characters, despite how broadly drawn they are. The turning point might be when Alice decides to take a job at a spa that specializes in certain sex acts. She does it because Noah is expecting money from the documentary agreement, but it really doesn't matter, because the subplot goes nowhere and exists simply for there to be an awkward moment when Alice and Harvey (who goes because Cybil gave him a gift certificate to the place for their anniversary) meet. That goes nowhere, either.

The movie becomes a situational comedy once the couples realize that Vivian is a bad influence on them (In case one wasn't certain, she's presented as a miserable person because of a divorce, and the movie makes a rather discomforting argument that the only thing she needs to be happy is to be roughly handled by a man). There's a revenge plot to sabotage a rally Vivian's holding, and the movie even introduces a randomly pregnant character near the end of the second act, just so the climax can involve an extended birth sequence.

The whole thing becomes cloying and unconvincing, mainly because the movie has so firmly established that the two married couples are hopeless causesówith or without Vivian's presence. A smarter movie would recognize this fact, as well as, perhaps, the notion that these couples are merely projecting their own failures upon a scapegoat. Instead, I Do... Until I Don't dismisses everything it has set up about these characters for some cheap jokes and an unbelievable turn to the sentimental.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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