I Do… Until I Don’t: Marriage on the Rocks, by David Bax
One of the only weak points of Lake Bell’s In a World…, which I called one the best movies of 2013, is its boilerplate framing and color palette. Unfortunately, she’s ported that over in full to her new effort, I Do… Until I Don’t (she’s brought along the ellipsis, too). In fact, at times, it’s even worse since the film with the film, a documentary on failing marriages, is distinguished by looking ugly instead of just bland—as if a documentarian in 2017 would be shooting MiniDV. The movie itself is enjoyable but lacks its predecessor’s fire, making it a disappointing next step for Bell in both style and content.
Set in Vero Beach, Florida, the plot kicks off when Vivian (Dolly Wells), comes to town to make a documentary about divorce. The overlapping stories unfold among her pool of subjects. There’s Alice and Noah (Bell and Ed Helms), who are struggling to have children while the family business Noah inherited from his father is failing. There’s Fanny and Zander (Amber Heard and Wyatt Cenac), Alice’s free spirit sister and her granola, trust-fund hippie, common-law husband, respectively. Finally, there’s Cybil and Harvey (Mary Steenburgen and Paul Reiser), whose insouciantly bitter marriage seems to perpetuate only because neither possesses the energy or motivation to end it. As cynical as all that sounds, I Do… is actually a clear-eyed and optimistic twist on an established genre; it’s a romantic comedy about couples who are already together. Plus it’s got “Alone” by Heart in it and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Bell gets off to a rocky start, overstuffing her first act with ramshackle scenes that drag on too long, most of them establishing over and over the problems in Alice and Noah’s relationship followed by a pointless detour subplot about a massage parlor that offers happy endings. As contrived a plot propulsion device as Vivian’s documentary is, at least the film gathers some steam once it kicks in.
Ill-fitting though it may be with the marriage-related themes, I Do… does seem to have a thing or two to say about documentarians who are only out to capture their version of the truth. Vivian is nakedly manipulative and Bell gives her a petty, scorned backstory to explain her dogged devotion to exposing matrimonial fraudulence. It’s an odd addendum but it’s more reminiscent of In a World… in its ability to draw blood than anything else here.
In more practical terms, Vivian and her camera are there to represent the observer effect as catalyst. Her scrutinizing presence results in major changes in these relationships; the running gag is that these tend to be the exact opposite of the changes she was hoping for.
Just when Bell threatens to tip over into hollow reconfirmations of traditional, pro-marriage values, her true intent arises. And it’s refreshingly laidback (though it may seem revolutionary to some). Really, it boils down to one line, spoken by Harvey: “You don’t have to get married.” Some of us will and some of us won’t. It really shouldn’t be a big deal. In this moment, I Do… Until I Don’t finally reveals its purpose. It’s too bad it has such cold feet about getting there.