At its gooey center, “I Do … Until I Don’t” is like vanilla cake. It is sweet, but generally there’s nothing that memorable about it. Writer-director Lake Bell’s examination of marriage as a tradition does little to go past the norm when it comes to the arguments about whether it is good or bad to tie any kind of knot.
There’s nothing that new in the script but what Bell has cooked up would be a sufficient serving of cinema if the debate was the only ingredient. What gives her recipe for romantic fun a flavor boost is a first-rate cast that includes Ed Helms, Mary Steenburgen, Paul Reiser, Amber Heard, Wyatt Cenac and Dolly Wells. Each performer adds his or her own brand of silly seasoning to the mixture and the product that was once vanilla develops some richness.
Bell not only wrote and directed the film but she also stars in it, playing Alice, the loving wife of Noah (Helms). Alice and Noah are never apart as they not only share a home life but also run a floundering business where they sell window blinds. Their good life begins to suffer because of financial problems with the business and failed efforts to start a family.
There’s also a little tension because Alice believes Noah has feelings for her younger sister, Fanny (Heard), who lives a Bohemian lifestyle with Zander (Cenac). Alice is threatened by both her sister’s beauty and the sexually freedom her sister is always promoting.
All of this comes out when a British documentary filmmaker comes to Vero Beach, Fla., where the couples live. Vivian (Welles) is looking for subjects for her latest film expose that will show how marriage is an archaic idea and couples should only have to enter into a contract for seven years. It doesn’t matter if the couples believe her theory, she just needs chaos in front of her camera.
Alice and Fanny agree to be part of the filming along with Cybil (Steenburgen) and Harvey (Reiser), a couple who have been married so long they may be reaching a point where an escape clause in a marriage contract sounds good.
The moviemaking icing on Bell’s work is the inclusion of the making of the documentary as part of the story. This is a great strand that runs through the film, energized by the way Wells pompously pushes her agenda to get the results she wants and not what naturally occurs. Bell also shot the documentary footage and it reflects all of the imagery that has become so familiar in the work of iffy documentarians.
The best thing about “I Do … Until I Don’t” is that it’s an old-fashioned love story. That sounds like an insult because these days, most attempts at movie romances either get torpedoed by a painfully bad performance (think most Katherine Heigl movies), get drenched in the kind of sentimentality that has made Nicholas Sparks rich or give in to heavily mature themes.
Bell doesn’t take a lot of chances and the fact that she plays it so safe is why the movie originally looks to be vanilla in design. But her commitment to her story, the actors selected to give that story life and a wicked sense of humor about documentaries sprinkle the film with some tasty moments. In this case, love means never having to say you’re sorry when the end result is sweet and funny.
I Do … Until I Don’t
Rated: R for sexual material, language. Starring: Lake Bell, Ed Helms, Mary Steenburgen. Director: Lake Bell. Running time: 103 minutes. Theater: Flicks.