Lake Bell wrote, directed, and starred in 2013's In a World... a charming comedy about the life of a struggling voiceover actress, a world she's very familiar with, as she has a number of voice acting credits under her belt. I was pleasantly surprised by the film's unconventionality, as it felt like a romantic comedy, but didn't actually devote that much time to the love story, focusing instead on her character and her family. Lake's follow-up, (I think...she likes ellipses) also plays with romantic comedy conventions, but this time the result, while occasionally funny, is not nearly as charming.
The story follows three couples who are suckered into participating in a documentary by the recently dumped and resultantly bitter British filmmaker Vivian (Dolly Wells). She's positing that marriage as a construct would work better if it was a seven year contract with an option to renew, and is hoping to prove her thesis by examining the lives of happy and unhappy couples in the town of Vero Beach, Florida.
Lake Bell and Ed Helms are Alice and Noah, a married couple creeping up on their tenth anniversary. They run a shades and blinds business together, and Alice has some deep-seated dissatisfaction with the marriage she isn't completely able to understand or explain. Noah's preoccupation with their failing business and their failed attempts to conceive a child mean he's pretty oblivious to anything else going on in their lives.
Alice is convinced Ed is attracted to her hippie sister Fanny (Amber Heard) who has recently moved to town with her boyfriend Zander (Wyatt Cenac) and their son Zenith, who, thanks to granola parenting, has yet to discover that television is a thing. The couple run an art collective, ascribe to polyamory, and look like they disavowed showering some time ago.
And then there's Harvey and Cybil (Mary Steenburgen and Paul Reiser), a couple reaching retirement age. Cybil is filled with a strong bitterness towards Harvey and their marriage that is never entirely explained. Part of it may be a result of estrangement from her adult daughter, Milly (Hannah Friedman), and part may just be the unavoidable contempt that kicks in after decades of marriage. Either way, Cybil is such a haranguing pill that it's hard not to root for Harvey to get on his late-life-crisis motorcycle and get the hell away from her.
All of the couples get suckered into Vivian's documentary, eventually discovering what is obvious from the beginning: that Vivian is a hack who will eagerly manipulate her subjects to get the result she wants. At first, the set-up reminded me a bit of Albert Brooks's 1979 comedy Real Life, a movie about an unscrupulous documentary filmmaker following around an all-American family. But Bell is too busy giving equal time the film's many characters to allow any real commentary on marriage or filmmaking to take shape before the hopelessly conventional ending hits.
Bell's script does have its moments, with some clever lines surrounding the awkwardness of sex and cohabitation ("Is this foreplay? Because I feel like I may have missed something crucial"), and she gifts her own character with an endearing awkwardness, cleverly masking her own beauty (Alice is convinced her sister is hotter) not with glasses and bad hair, but instead with a muted color scheme — blond hair, bland clothes — that turns her into a walking epitome of the color beige. But that kind of detail is missing from too much of I Do...Until I Don't, resulting in a film that feels as halfhearted as its title.I Do...Until I Don't