By Elias Savada.
There are problems a-plenty in Vero Beach, Florida, and after watching them dribble forth in the lame ensemble comedy I Do…Until I Don’t, I feel that this piece of sunshiny beach would be the last place on earth I’d want to live. While Florida does have a high divorce rate, the city that The Daily Beast claims to be the divorce capital of the U.S. is actually Panama City, not Vero Beach. So why does Lake Bell pick on VB? She attended high school there and perhaps decided it was time for plopping a brown paper bag hiding some pooh on the doorstep of its residents, whom she portrays as somewhat dopey and gullible. Alas, there is a ruse afoot, exposed in the end credits, where it’s revealed that no Floridians were harmed in the making of this film. As one of the film’s characters, a real estate agent, might add: location, location, location.
Bell’s second feature as a quadruple threat (writer-director-producer-actor), after her marvelous debut with In a World… (also R-rated) in 2013, is a letdown for anyone expecting something approaching the goofy comedy about the voice-over business. In her sophomore effort, she tackles marital issues, neuroses, and some lame-brained silliness by way of several confused couples who are the easily manipulated subjects of an “award-winning” documentarian. The set-up is fairly straight forward, even if the three duos are not all that endearing. The question posed to them: Why not turn marriage into a seven-year deal with an option to renew? (For a full description of that perceived marital disorder, please view Billy Wilder’s 1955 classic The Seven-Year Itch.)
Bickering empty nesters Cybil Burger (Mary Steenburgen), a realtor, and her black leather & motorcycle-lovin’ husband, Harvey (Paul Reiser) are on the verge of an anniversary, and she hopes her grown but estranged daughter, Milly (Hannah Friedman), from her first, short marriage might attend. (She does, adding a subplot that does nothing to further the film.) Mid-thirty-something Alice Pruitt (a disturbingly blonde-haired Bell) works with her harried, milquetoast husband Noah (Ed Helms) in his struggling family window blind business. They’ve been trying to have kids for four years, even if she’s not convinced that’s what they need to salvage their marriage. Insecurities abound in their relationship. She thinks he’s fixated on her younger, bra-less sister, Fanny (Amber Heard), who has an open, Bohemian relationship with Zander (Wyatt Cynac, a former correspondent/writer on The Daily Show, with the least crazed role of the bunch), with whom they have a young son.
These couples are the subject of an interview-laden documentary for BBC Films conceived by Vivian Prudeck (Dolly Wells), a conniving, slutty, despicable British filmmaker, who seems hell bent on destroying any love her subjects might still have for one another. Wells seems to have skimmed off some of the grating, ditsy character she played for two seasons on the engaging Starz series Blunt Talk (2015-16). Then again, all the characters were scatterbrained on that show.
While a pair of the twosomes are connected by siblings, Bell concocts a silly get-rich-quick premise (an embarrassing attempt at the world’s oldest profession in which she pretends to be “21”) for integrating the third group into the mix.
As the film progresses, the viewer gets to see the documentary’s self-serving, unsettled subjects as a film within a film. I kept wondering how the heck the inner film had so many reaction angles with just a single camera available, used by Mel (Connie Shin), Vivian’s lesbian and possibly disgruntled assistant. Of course, the flaky filmmaker could be fudging this in the editing room, but it’s basically the raw interview footage, with the zoom shots so excruciatingly close you can see individual nose hairs and the fillings in teeth.
Eventually the sisters realize the dark energy that Vivian is producing is a “toxic horror show,” and opt for revenge, a set up that produces a few laughs in this rather mirthless outing. The last half-hour nearly makes up for the drudge of the first 75 minutes, with some nice, heartfelt moments. Maybe that’s the problem with I Do…Until I Don’t, which is also the name of the documentary Vivian is making. There aren’t enough smiles.
So, yes, Lake Bell has made a film about honesty and communication in marriage. Although she bases her screenplay on an inane Florida reality, the story devolves into unintended fantasy. How can you tie up all three couples’ loose ends into a tidy, frustratingly coincidental hugs-and-kisses lovefest without any professional therapy?
A Question: Will Bell be allowed back into the Sunshine State? I Do…Until I Don’t paints sleepy Vero Beach as a place that carelessly drops everything when Vivian calls a special event that captures a front page banner headline in the local rag – Trump news must have been pushed to the sports pages – while regional television outlets all have reporters assigned for live coverage.
Then I remember the film’s working title, What’s the Point?, and can’t help but agree.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He served as an executive producer on the 2015 horror film German Angst, Penny Lane’s award-winning documentary Nuts!, and the forthcoming supernatural thriller Ayla. He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (the revised edition will be published in 2017 by Centipede Press).