Lake Bell, Ed Helms, Mary Steenburgen, Paul Reiser, Dolly Wells, Amber Heard, Wyatt Cenac
Choose theaters September 1
Some of the lamely persistent tropes in fashionable romantic comedies—particularly of the indie persuasion, and much more particularly in the event that they’re about characters of a sure middle-class means—is the character who boldly proclaims that marriage is an archaic, illogical, and/or meaningless establishment. Virtually any character who talks in such ham-fisted phrases in regards to the outdated bourgeois notion of lifelong dedication is both as unbearable and corny as they sound, or extra usually, a assemble who exists to be disproved by the film’s different made-up characters. It’s a type of debates that tends to curiosity filmmakers (particularly of a sure middle-class-or-better means) extra so than their audiences.
I Do… Till I Don’t very practically makes this connection itself. Its doomsaying opponent of marriage is, for as soon as, a filmmaker: Vivian (Dolly Wells), a documentarian whose earlier effort, the acclaimed sociological research Tween Jungle, sounds hilariously believable. Vivian is satisfied that marriage is—get this—archaic and meaningless, and she or he proposes that it needs to be given a seven-year renewable contract, form of like a long-term lease. By some means, making a documentary following a number of married will show her idea as soon as and for all.
At the same time as a satirical conceit, Vivian’s concepts don’t make a lot sense; if marriage is so usually the improper selection, don’t comparatively excessive divorce charges present a inhabitants already prepared to self-correct? It’s not shocking, then, to see Vivian change into a straw-woman character fairly early, susceptible to cartoonish villainy as she stacks the deck towards marriage and hides behind provocations. It’s shocking, although, to see these non-issues tackled by Lake Bell, the writer-director-performer behind In A World…, a movie so warmly charming that it’s frequently and inaccurately described as a romantic comedy.
World devoted mere minutes of screen time to a blossoming romantic relationship, while Bell’s follow-up is set almost entirely after the spark has gone out between two of its three main couples. Alice (Bell) and Noah (Ed Helms) are trying to get pregnant as they grapple with a failing family business, while Alice’s sister, Fanny (Amber Heard), and her partner, Zander (Wyatt Cenac), revel in an open relationship. The third and most contentious couple, Cybil (Mary Steenburgen) and Harvey (Paul Reiser), are only tied to the other two incidentally—and as subjects of Vivian’s listless documentary, which is apparently shot with a crew of two people and includes a lot of footage that zooms in stupidly close on its subjects’ hands or eyes as they sit on couches. (The movie also suggests that documentary subjects might reasonably negotiate for gross points; if it’s supposed to be a joke, it’s not a very good one.)
When she’s not playing fast and loose with the documentary form, Bell has a steady hand behind the camera. She’s good in front of it, too: Her Alice is breathy and blond, dresses almost exclusively in combinations of white and beige, needs to be told to speak up even when holding a microphone, and is prone to saying things like “oh dear”—a sharp pivot away from her headstrong In A World character, in other words. Bell’s mastery of character details and refusal to settle into a comic persona makes one wish she appeared in more movies. Although she gives the movie’s most engaging performance—Helms is stuck in tedious aw-shucks dork mode, while Steenburgen and Reiser have genuinely unpleasant exchanges like a slightly better-preserved version of the Lockhorns—she also provides some funny dialogue to the other characters, even if she insists on overlapping too much of it. (Sample marital grievance: “I listened to Widespread Panic for you!”)
The commitment the movie really fails to make is to its comedy. As I Do digs deeper into its characters’ relationship challenges, it repeatedly feints toward interlocking farce, before swiftly and timidly scurrying away, usually settling for the comfort of either maudlin sincerity or taking another kick at the straw documentarian. This softness seems to be rooted in Bell not wanting to jerk her characters around; her affection for them (minus Vivian) is clear in moments like a cute late-movie montage of couples canoodling to Heart’s “Alone.” But it’s the more farcical bits (again, minus Vivian) that play to her strengths as a filmmaker—she has the chops to make something more logistically ambitious than this good-natured dithering.
As much as the movie tries to tie itself in knots over contemporary romantic relationships, it’s happy to untangle itself with haste, and turns out to be pretty traditionalist about marriage (which makes its weird insistence on a home birth as a safe and optimal practice stick out even more). There’s nothing especially wrong with that, but if anything, the movie makes itself feel fustier by insisting on having an argument with a fictional idiot. The outline of a snappy relationship comedy is here, and Bell is talented enough to make one. Maybe next time she’ll commit to it.