I Do…Until I Don’t may be Lake Bell’s follow-up to the voice-over artist comedy In a World…, but the two comedies have very little in common. While Bell’s feature directorial debut was an insightful comedic commentary on the inequality women face in the industry, her latest is an extended debate on the sustainability of marriage. The former spoke to industry preferentiality and even how small victories can be tokenism, but this effort flirts with a battle of the sexes subtext and pits partners against each other in an absurdly orchestrated attempt to test their patience and devotion. I Do…Until I Don’t delivers less of a message and instead plays like a middle of the road marital comedy.

Like In a World…, this film frames its story around the film industry. Caricaturish British documentarian Vivian (Dolly Wells) has made a career out of pointed films that harshly examine modern society and trends (her most famous bears the edgy title Tween Jungle). She has a vision for her latest project, which is less of an unobtrusive documentary and more of a formal implementation of her new concept of marriage, namely that it be a seven-year contract with an option for renewal. Entering into the project with the preconceived conclusion that marriage is a doomed undertaking, she enlists subjects to consider and in theory ultimately embrace the guidelines. The three subject couples represent different stages of marriage and different approaches to relationships – and are all very insubstantial, stereotypical characters.

Bells lucks out in recruiting Mary Steenbergen and Paul Reiser as Cybil and Harvey, a middle-aged couple whose marriage has lasted decades but who seem to be confrontational at every turn. The awkward Alice (Bell) and her husband Noah (Ed Helms), approaching that seven-year mark, talk about having children but are unsure of their future as their small business faces bankruptcy. Alice’s sister, Fanny (Amber Heard) and her partner Zander (Wyatt Cenac) have children together but have never been married and claim to be in an open relationship, despite the fact that neither has slept with another person in six years. Each relationship has its problems, except the stereotypical hippies who seem pretty happy. Alice has been slowly building up resentment toward Noah for putting an end to her art dreams, and she even lies to him about their involvement in the documentary. Cybil and Harvey’s problems are less logical, stemming more from her being tired of the same face and jealous of his ability to let loose and relax into the freedom of riding his motorcycle around with no purpose.

The comedy is slow, Bell’s writing relying on situational comedy and naive characters. Her character Alice plays a big role in supporting this aspect of the film. Her efforts to clandestinely earn money to avoid bankruptcy play up suburban innocence while skirting real commentary. She stumbles into a job at the “Your Welcome” massage spa run by Bonnie (Chauntae Pink) and learns just how much you can earn from the right clientele by offering “happy endings.” This segment connects her story with Harvey’s, but it’s more than awkward. On the one hand, Bonnie and her ever-present sidekick of an employee, Lyn (Rae Gray), are honest representations that speak to the reality of sex workers who recognize in Alice a person ripe for the industry. But it’s just for laughs; Alice doesn’t have a moment of dawning realization that she works in such a place, just that she doesn’t want to give Harvey a massage.

The film’s deceptive beginning leads audiences to believe they’re in for yet another rote, benign comedy about relationships and marriage, but Bell throws a twist into your average marriage comedy in the form of Vivian. Unfortunately, the film’s revelations about the nature of marriage are obvious from its very premise, leaving audiences to spend the final act waiting for a finale that we all know is coming. Perhaps if Bell had shaved off 15 minutes, the latter half of the film wouldn’t be so much of a waiting game. But, even so, it lacks originality.

The movie is finally a simple and sometimes funny parable about the lasting power of love that makes love’s bitter denier out to be a fool. It’s not remotely subversive but merely a feel-good film that posits that marriages, no matter how legitimately fractured they are by dishonesty or resentment, can last. That sort of blindly positive shlock is far below what Bell is capable of. For a film that opens with such a harsh condemnation of matrimony, I Do…Until I Don’t is far too eager not only to defend the institution but to reinforce the notion that romance is ever-lasting—and that marriage is the end goal.

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