Actress-writer-director Lake Bell’s second feature behind the camera is more sketch-driven comedy than resonant study of failing marriages, but by the third act a more open, warmer voice emerges. Rating: 2.5 stars out of 4.
Note to Lake Bell: Stop trying so hard.
The busy comic actress (“A Good Old-Fashioned Orgy,” television’s “Children’s Hospital”) and director (“In a World …”) has released her second feature, “I Do … Until I Don’t,” as a writer-director-performer. Typically, in whatever she does, Bell’s gifts in front of and behind the camera are considerable and praiseworthy.
Her sharp voice in crafting comedy scenes and dialogue reveals a born sketch artist with an ear for quick, layered quips that can almost fly by a viewer. Her vignette-by-vignette focus on the awkward, neurotic pitfalls of marital commitment taps the influence of Woody Allen.
Movie Review ★★½
‘I Do … Until I Don’t,’ with Lake Bell, Ed Helms, Paul Reiser, Dolly Wells, Mary Steenburgen, Amber Heard, Wyatt Cenac. Written and directed by Bell. 103 minutes. Rated R for sexual material and language. Several theaters.
Yet there is something starved about much of “I Do.” Bell can sculpt a funny moment to polished realization, but deprive it of oxygen at the same time. It’s not until late in the film’s third act that a different feeling emerges, a looser hand that provides room for characters to be more warm and human than pieces in a constricted design.
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Bell plays Alice (with a nod to Mia Farrow’s aching, stammering protagonists in Allen’s work), the desperately unfulfilled spouse of Noah (Ed Helms). Met with an opportunity to be featured in a documentary film about failing marriages, Alice dupes Noah into participating.
Something similar happens with a sour, older couple played with bruising humor by Mary Steenburgen and Paul Reiser. Also involved are Alice’s younger, hippie sister (Amber Heard) and the latter’s partner (Wyatt Cenac).
The cast (including Dolly Wells as the villainous documentary maker) is fine even through the film’s early slog through jokey, snapshot moments. But it’s when resolution begins to sink into this circle of troubled love that Bell begins to find herself as a filmmaker, making room for grace notes, resonant personality and lilting humor. (Reiser is especially liberated). Here’s hoping we see more of the same on Bell’s next one.