I Do … Until I Don’t undermines complexity of marriage while superficially celebrating it — a film review

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The Film Arcade

I Do… Until I Don’t must be one of the most reductive movies about long-term relationships this critic has ever seen. For a movie looking to celebrate such profound couplings, it certainly offers a simplistic perspective of them. As Ben Affleck once said, marriage is work. He’s since divorced, but he wasn’t wrong. So when a movie comes along that crudely undermines the complexity of the work needed to maintain a relationship beyond the butterflies stage of lust and offers a solution so banal and middling to support the film’s perky positive celebration of monogamy, it insults the intelligence and makes for a grating movie experience.

Actress Lake Bell proved herself a capable writer/director when she explored the work and drama of the movie trailer voice-over profession with In a World…, back in 2013, which only adds to the disappointment of her second feature. In a World… had an original theme and showed she knew the quirks of the industry and how to turn that into something funny and familiar. Western marriage, should be her thing too — she is married, after all (four years in is still pretty fresh, compared to Affleck’s 10, though). But there’s something creepily desperate in this dramedy’s quest for thematic validation. It reeks of rationalization, as if trying to reassure with some kind of false, flimsy hope that partners in marriage never really change or have desires to move on from those they once fell in love with. 

The Film Arcade

The movie opens with a montage featuring a wedding and a funeral. A voiceover by an unseen British woman turns out to be the film’s antagonist, a documentary filmmaker named Vivian Prudeck (Dolly Wells). She is the foreign interloper on a Vero Beach community who brings her radical idea that marriage should only be a 7-year contract to disrupt things for three couples. During her voice over this radical defines marriage by explaining the “entomology of betrothed” and associates “for life” to a reminder of one’s own death. During the opening wedding scene, there is a glimpse of an ambivalent relationship in the pews. An old man nods of. Then, a smiling elderly woman next to him suddenly frowns and quickly slaps him awake. At the funeral we meet our first couple, Cybil (Mary Steenburgen) and Harvey (Paul Reiser). He comments, “I hate that he died. They were kind of a cute couple,” and she shrugs and says, “at least one of them got out of it alive.” It will turn out, Cybil and Harvey have been married for something like 30 years, and their source of tension is Harvey’s inclination to ride a motorcycle by himself.

After this montage that establishes a particularly cynical voice, we come face to face with the narrator, as Vivian gives a speech to the Vero Beach Culture club. In the audience is Alice (Bell) who raises her hand to ask a question and fawn over Vivian’s previous work, “Tween Jungle,” about a pack of baboons the filmmaker uses as a comparison to human teenagers. Alice also asks a superficial question about why the filmmaker chose to grace Vero Beach with her presence, which prompts Vivian to say it’s the divorce capital of the U.S. (the film was shot in California, however) and will make for a perfect place to find her next subjects: couples in monogamous turmoil who she hopes are on the brink of divorce.

The Film Arcade

As it turns out, Alice’s home life isn’t strong because her husband Noah (Ed Helms), who runs the family blinds business he inherited with his wife, is a bit of a control freak and has stunted Alice’s creative dreams by reeling her into the business. Meanwhile, Alice’s younger sister, Fanny (Amber Heard), is a hippie living in a commune and an open relationship with Zander (Wyatt Cenac), the father of her little son. These are the couples Vivian sets her sights on for her next documentary.

Immediately, Vivian’s ethics are called into question, as it is revealed she pays her subjects. Cybil is prepared to throw in divorce papers for Vivian, upping her price. Meanwhile, Alice is such a fan girl, Vivian tentatively agrees to allow her to be part of the project on a non-paying “trial basis.” But it soon becomes apparent to Vivian that Alice’s marriage isn’t that great, and her interest in her changes. But then, the couples begin to realize on their own, there is a simple solution to all of their problems: communication. With that, they turn the tables on Vivian to set her up for certain disappointment as they scheme a very public confrontation to debunk her thesis with corny results.

The Film Arcade

This plot twist turns what could have been something insightful about relationships, however minimal that might be, into a revenge scheme to do in this interloper with wild ideas. There are no gray areas in this flick. Good and evil is clearly defined and takes little of these characters’ histories into account. These people are nothing more than the sum of their quirks. There’s something overly simplistic in all this, as the film barrels through some warm-hearted Hollywood movie tropes of loose-end tying. It becomes extremely creepy when the related couples decide to follow Harvey and Cybil home to Cybil’s pregnant daughter’s impromptu home birth, after their demolition of Vivian. Years-long issues are resolved with turns of perspectives within the characters, and they come together like some big happy family, after tearing down that strange woman bearing a truth, albeit with an antagonistic, misguided approach.

There’s something sadly uninspired about it all. As I Do … Until I Don’t minimizes the complexities of what is popularly recognized by social expectations as the “logical step” for romantic partners, it does a disservice to those who actually take the plunge (there’s a reason to the insinuation of depth and death in the cliché). The movie also hardly solves its problems and then deflects solutions into an inane story of personal revenge. So Bell has written and directed a movie about why it’s good to communicate when you’re married but communicates the message with such hollowness, it hardly celebrates anything but a silly resolution that’s far from an ending genuine enough to dignify the true sanctity of long-term relationships that inevitably carry on toward any array of finality, be it death, break-up, compromise, renewal or something else.

Hans Morgenstern

I Do … Until I Don’t runs 106 minutes and is rated R. It opens in our Miami area Friday, Sept. 1 at the below Miami theaters:
  • AMC Aventura Mall 24
  • AMC Sunset Place 24
  • CMX Brickell City Center 10
  • Regal South Beach 18
For screenings in other parts of the U.S., visit this link. The Film Arcade sent us an online screener link for the purpose of this review.
(Copyright 2017 by Independent Ethos. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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