Actress Lake Bell burst onto the directorial scene at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival with In a World …, a charming but overrated comedy about a father and daughter competing in the voiceover industry. But instead of building on that success, her disappointing sophomore effort, I Do … Until I Don’t, does little except prove Bell’s love for ellipses.
In addition to punctuation, Bell also has marriage on her mind or, more specifically, whether the institution makes much sense in today’s society. Her film, which she also wrote and stars in, focuses on three couples – why just three? – participating in a “toxic horror show of a documentary” designed to prove that couples aren’t meant to stay together for life. In fact, Vivian (Dolly Wells), the pretentious hack directing the doc – whom we’re meant to believe works for BBC Films – suggests that marriage should be a seven-year contract, with the option to renew.
Vivian has journeyed to – you guessed it – Florida, which she claims is the divorce capital of America (it isn’t) to shoot her project. In Vero Beach, she finds Alice (Bell) and Noah (Ed Helms), Cybil (Mary Steenburgen) and Harvey (Paul Reiser), and Fanny (Amber Heard) and Zander (Wyatt Cenac), who, unbelievably, all seem to know each other. Alice and Fanny are actually sisters whom Valerie hired separately, apparently without knowing they were related. (Vero Beach is small, but not that small.)
If these contrivances had been surrounded by clever slapstick or screwball, they might have been amusing. But instead they are joined by other faults, such as an overly long runtime, unmanageable side stories, derivative themes and Bell’s failure to take full advantage of some admittedly funny situations (such as when Alice – who takes a job as a sexual masseuse – believes cupping a man’s balls is best accomplished with a pair of tongs and an actual cup). Yet the film’s most noticeable failure is its inability to say anything interesting or original about marriage, or even explore the documentary’s idea of placing a time limit on matrimony. The concept of the seven-year itch goes philosophically unscratched.
Though it falls short of In a World …, Bell’s new movie is somewhat sweet and does occasionally set aside its tedium long enough to display funny moments made tolerable by a strong cast. Reiser, returning to his Mad About You form, is particularly good and enjoys nice chemistry with Steenburgen. Bell herself is decent, but her rapid-fire dialogue and Kristen Wiig delivery grow tiresome. On a positive note, her description of a minor character as a “sculptor/performance artist [who] makes life-size copulating nudes with reclaimed appliances” shows her flair for social satire. But her overwritten and rambling script might be best summarized by an attack Reiser lobs at his wife: “Why does everything gotta be a quip … a little dig? It’s unpleasant.”
If you want sporadic chuckles and don’t hold your comedies to a very high standard, you might dig I Do … Until I Don’t. I didn’t.