Film Review: I Do... Until I Don't

Neither amusing nor interesting comedy about three couples starring in a documentary centered on marital discord.
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The world of documentaries and those filmmakers who forge them are potential fodder for comedy, from their personal/political convictions to their intrusive presence in people’s lives to their private ambitions (acknowledged and unacknowledged). Lake Bell attempts to tackle this subject and completely misses the mark in I Do…Until I Don’t. Even the title is off-putting.

Her documentary maker, the veddy, veddy British Vivian (Dolly Wells)—well-known for her earlier cinema-vérité “Tween Jungle”—is nothing more than a one-dimensional steamroller with a personal axe to grind. She's demented, but not funny. But then, nothing about this movie is especially amusing. Contrived and dated are the operative words.

Ostensibly because she has studied the subject and come up with a sociological thesis on the doomed state of marriage—but in fact because she is suffering through her own divorce—Vivian sets out to prove onscreen the inevitability of marital breakups. Settling in Vero Beach, Florida—due to its allegedly high divorce rate—she ferrets out three couples she believes may be on the brink of splitting. Her goal is to interview these luckless souls on camera and ideally see their relationships disintegrate onscreen. She’s all in for manipulating the interviewees—in one instance attempting to seduce a husband—in order to facilitate the end of their marriages.

In 2013, Bell wrote and helmed In a World…, a snarky insider’s glimpse into the world of voiceovers, but she is best known for her acting stints on the TV show “Children’s Hospital” and in the action-adventure flick No Escape. Here she plays Alice, the somewhat bored and disappointed wife of personality-free Noah (Ed Helms), who is determined to impregnate her. Gross-out humor that wears thin immediately abounds.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, Alice loves Vivian’s work and feels that starring in her film will afford her an opportunity to express her own artistry that has been suppressed by her marriage. To entice her financially strapped husband to come onboard, she tells him that there is money to be made. One falsehood leads to another.

Vivian’s second couple is Alice’s flower-child sister Fanny (Amber Heard) and her equally hippy-dippy husband Zander (Wyatt Cenac), both of whom endlessly extol the virtues of their open marriage and punctuate their conversations with the trendy “Namaste.” They are stereotypes right out of a time-warp.

The only mildly interesting duo—and that’s thanks to Paul Reiser and Mary Steenburgen’s layered performances—is the well-heeled empty-nesters Harvey and Cybil, who are in the midst of midlife crises that don’t really make much sense. But compared to everything else going on, their situation is downright profound.

Throw into the cauldron Cybil’s pregnant daughter, whose partner is in jail; hookers with hearts of gold; and lies and deception centered on money and infidelity.

The dull story is not enhanced by its improvisational feel. The problem is that, contrary to what its proponents believe, improv doesn’t sound remotely like real people talking. With its clearly recognizable rhythms, tone and style, it sounds like, well, actors doing improvisation, frequently evoking dimwitted, earnest types who have trouble saying what they mean while interrupting one another with overlapping commentary that may or may not be audible.

This film might have looked good on paper and its end, though predictable, is not without charm. If only, as the old adage says, half the fun was getting there.

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