In “I Do…Until I Don’t,” actress/writer/director Lake Bell introduces audiences to three couples as they maneuver their way through their messy and complex relationships in an attempt to find happiness.
Along with writing and directing the second film of her career (her 2013 comedy “In a World…” was a gem), Bell also stars as Alice, a woman who is struggling alongside her husband Noah (Ed Helms) to keep their small business afloat and trying to decide if having a baby is a good decision. All three couples’ lives are placed center stage when a jaded filmmaker asks them to participate in her documentary about marriage and the notion that all unions should be capped by a seven-year contract.
During an interview with me last week, Bell, 38, talked about the idea behind her script, why marriage is so hard, yet so worth it, and shares the best marriage advice she’s ever received.
Talk about the idea behind this script of the seven-year marriage contract. I’m assuming it’s playing off the idea of the seven-year itch.
The idea came from a German politician named Gabriele Pauli who proposed to her government that marriage was basically archaic and that we would be better suited socially to alter it to a seven-year contract. I’ve been married for four years, but have been with my husband for seven. There something about getting over the hump and push through the muddy, messy times. It’s so hard, but when you choose not to bail on each other, that’s where real evolution and growth happens in a relationship. The privilege of aging and evolving with someone is having the benefit of someone calling you out and vice versa. That was kind of the subject matter I wanted to investigate.
So, I’ve been married for eight years and have two kids. Are you telling me I don’t have to worry about any more mud?
(Laughs) Hey, I get it. I’m four years in and have two kids. I am with you, brother. I know that it’s hard and that shit can get real. That’s why this movie is so deeply personal to me. We’re all dealing with a barrage of very negative stuff in the news. There is a lot of tension in the air that trickles down into our personal lives. Commitment, in general, is hard. I want to be an advocate for relationships. When the steeple burns down to ash, out of ash grows flowers. The same with shit. You’re going to have flowers grow out of it. It is your duty – pun intended – and honor to trudge through the mess and come out the other side.
You do realize, however, that even though you are already committed to your marriage, you’re doubling down by making a movie like this, yes?
I’m putting my money where my mouth is and I’m not even at the seven-year mark yet. I made this movie so that I could make sure that…Let’s just say I would be such an asshole if I bailed out. So, now I have to stick to my guns. I believe in the institution [of marriage]. I didn’t when I first started writing the movie. I had a very cynical and jaded view. Then, I met my now husband during the process of writing it. That’s why, ultimately, without giving away any spoilers, I want the world to know you should go into this movie with the intention of wanting to make out with your wife at the end of it.
That could be the case, but I could also see arguments coming out of this if you went to the movies with your spouse, no?
Maybe, but I hope that it’s more of a date-night movie. I hope people feel at the end that marriage counts for a lot. Your partner is the only other person who has a shared experience of what you have gone through. That history and framework and tapestry of your lives together can’t be just built. It takes so much love and energy to build a relationship like that. It is worth working for.
What’s the best advice you’ve received about making marriage last?
Therapy, especially if you’ve gone through all the trouble to have a family with someone and get in front of all your friends and all your family and get married and buy a house together and entrench yourself together. I think therapy and self-reflection and coupled reflection is super noble and worth it to everybody. (Laughs) The point is, and we are really getting into it here because I’m passionate about the subject, if you think bailing is the easier route, it’s not.
How much of directing and writing your own projects was the simple fact that you weren’t getting offered the roles you wanted and wanted to create your own material?
I feel very lucky that I’ve had an awesome career thus far. It was more about the experience of writing and creating something from nothing. It was just a profound and creative privilege. It’s something I enjoy and find really fulfilling. As an added bonus, yes, I feel like I can cast myself in roles that are perhaps not the obvious roles people would cast me in. Certainly, Alice is not the kind of character I would have gotten offered in the past. But I really felt she was a character I needed to accept, so I gave myself that opportunity.