First Hit: Although not well crafted, it had some funny sections and the film ended nicely.
Lake Bell as both director and lead actor did a fair job in developing this film. What didn’t work was that some scenes seemed forced while others ended with little reason for being and did not set up another scene. What did work for me was that there were some very out-loud funny moments and I liked how the film came together in the end.
The film follows three types of relationships partially through the eyes of a relationship guru named Vivian (Dolly Wells). She wants to prove her theory that marriage between two people cannot be "until death do you part." She surmises that people live longer these days so that this promise is not in tune with the changes in our aging process. What she thinks and believes is that after seven years of marriage a couple should have the option to renew or not. To prove her theory, she wants to video a couple falling apart to prove her point.
One relationship that Vivian follows is Bell as Alice who is married to Noah (Ed Helms). They own a window blind store that is failing. The reason it is failing is that he holds on to the ways his father and his grandfather ran the business and doesn’t want to change. They need money as they are about to go into Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Alice thinks by working with Vivian she might make some money. Adding to their issues, Alice doesn’t want to have children while Noah does. Alice also thinks that Noah is hot for her sister Fanny (Amber Heard).
Fanny and Zander (Wyatt Cenac) are not married but have been together for six years. They are raising a son and have publicly declared they’re in an open relationship. There is talk about having other partners but in the end, we find out that they're more talk than action (more sizzle than steak). This is another couple Vivian decides to video because she thinks their relationship will fail.
Lastly, she makes a deal to video Cybil and Harvey (Mary Steenburgen and Paul Reiser respectively) who appear to be tired of their long term marriage. Their communication is mostly made up of snide and snippy remarks towards each other. Cybil is intent on serving Harvey with divorce papers for Vivian’s video and has been guaranteed $10,000.
What the film follows is how these couples set up both their failures and successes with each other. In the course of their interactions, there are naturally developed situations and scenes that are laugh-out-loud funny. Two such scenes are when Alice tries to make money by becoming a massage therapist that gives happy endings to clients. Her first time attempt to do this happens to be with Harvey, who gets a happy ending massage coupon from his wife, Cybil. Their interaction is very funny. Another amusing scene is when Alice and Harvey meet, after the massage, Alice’s reaction is priceless.
When the couples learn about how they are being used by Vivian and that they still love each other, they plan to teach Vivian a lesson.
Bell is up and down in her character, there are times I thought her reactions were not congruent with her character. Helms is okay as Bell’s husband and as consistent in his character. Steenburgen was wonderful. I loved her shift through the film. Reiser is very strong as Harvey the quiet, semi-lost, husband looking for a way to share his deep caring for Cybil. Heard is very good as the free flowing and free spirited sister. Cenac was very good as Fanny’s partner and when he shows his true color for someone trying to seduce Fanny, it is perfect. Wells was funny and okay as the videographer who has a strong opinion about marriage based on her own failings. Lake Bell wrote and directed this film along with starring in it. Not many people do all three successfully and as the film and story evolved it got better which gives me hope that future offerings by Bell will continue to be stronger.
Overall: The ending made up for some of the failings of the beginning scenes.