Tag Archives: Mary Steenburgen

I Do…Until I Don’t

Vivian, a pretentious documentarian, has a thesis to prove with her new film: that marriage is basically prison, that married people are largely unhappy, and that the institution of marriage should be capped at 7 year contracts. So she finds 3 American couples to expose their marital problems on camera, and boy do they.

Alice (Lake Bell) and Noah (Ed Helms) are in dire financial straights; their business is failing and they’re in danger of losing their house. Meanwhile, they’ve been trying to have a baby for years, but their lacklustre sex life is not cooperating.

MV5BMTU0NDI2ODIzM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDM5Mzc3MjI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_Fanny (Amber Heard) and Zander (Wyatt Cenac) are a non-traditional couple with an open relationship.

Cybil (Mary Steenburgen) and Harvey (Paul Reiser) married when each had a specific need, but now neither one are fulfilling it. They seem to be drifting into separate lives, and Cybil barely tolerates Harvey’s quirks.

Vivian exploits and also orchestrates events to fit her documentary’s narrative but these couples have too many real problems to play her game satisfactorily. Cybil’s semi-estranged daughter shows up, pregnant. Alice has lied about money and tries to cover it up by doing sex work on the side. Noah may be hiding a drug problem. On Vivian’s “emancipation day,” who will divorce, who will walk away, and who will choose to tough it out?

Written and directed by Lake Bell, I Do…Until I Don’t starts out subversive and satirical but simmers down to a sweet little comedy that feels more like a defense of marriage than a challenge to it. There are plenty of great lines to go around but almost nothing new to say about love and relationships. The performances are pleasing and there’s nothing wrong with the film, it’s just a lot less rebellious than I’ve come to expect from Bell. Movies are crowded with stories about relationships, and this one never finds the footing to rise above.

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Book Club

Four smart and accomplished ladies have a friendly book club to “stimulate their minds.” But this month, frisky businesswoman Vivian (Jane Fonda) is suggesting Fifty Shades of Grey, which promises to stimulate something else. Sharon (Candice Bergen), a judge and voice of reason doubts it even qualifies as a book, but she is overruled and pretty soon they, along with Diane (Diane Keaton), recently widowed, and Carol (Mary Steenburgen), the only one who is happily married (or married at all, I suppose) are actually reading this month’s selection, which is apparently a pretty rare thing (sorry, Wild).

Fifty Shades of Grey offends me on many levels. Likely not on a prurient one. I can’t be sure though, since I’ve never read it. It offends me because it started out as porn fan fiction about Twilight, which is a book that already offends me for infantilizing MV5BMTU2MjYzMjY2MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTYyNjM0NTM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,743_AL_literature. But fan fiction should likely stay in the darkest corners of the internet, where it belongs. Instead, easily titillated people with low standards encouraged the author to change the names and publish it as a “book,” which I avoided on principle. Ditto when the movie(s) came out, and you know there aren’t many I miss reviewing, even the stinkers.

When I first heard about this one, I loved it immediately for the terrific ensemble cast, but I was really disappointed about the subject of their book club.  I think older women, and indeed all women, should be free to explore and own their sexuality, but it’s insulting and belittling that it’s come to this. Luckily, the toxic erotica is only the jumping off point, followed by a pretty harmless rom-com. Not a great one, but thanks to fabulous leading ladies, it can’t go completely wrong can it?

And it’s sort of nice to see these ladies getting to live, getting to flirt and travel and nurture friendships, getting to be things others than mothers and grandmothers, which are wonderful things of course but not the only thing. Aging is a sin in Hollywood, and women over 40 are largely viewed by the camera’s lens as sexless. Producers routinely cast young actresses in “old” roles (ie, a 28 year old Angelina Jolie playing 27 year old Colin Farrell’s mother). The year Meryl Streep turned 40 she was offered THREE different roles for a witch. In The First Wives Club, Goldie Hawn’s character explains “There are only three ages for women in Hollywood; ‘Babe’, ‘District Attorney’, and ‘Driving Ms. Daisy.'” In real life, women continue to be interesting, complex human beings at every age, and the stories we tell should reflect that. Book Club is not the answer we really need; it feels more like an extended sitcom episode. But I won’t deny that Bergen, Keaton, Steenburgen, and Fonda are thrilling to watch; they remain magnetic as ever. If I have to put up with a “lethargic pussy” joke I will, but I will continue to hope for better next time. Like maybe a little less glaring whiteness, for starters.

Four Christmases

Being a child of divorce, I can relate to this notion of multiple Christmases, and most people seem to be stressed enough by just the one. Of course, the truth is, if you have divorce in your life or not, you probably already have multiple holiday celebrations: office, friends, in-laws. The holidays are never simple.

So who can blame Brad and Kate for opting out? They’re a fun loving couple in a committed but unmarried relationship who have kept family out of the equation. Instead of choosing between celebrations, they fly south for the holidays, and this year they’ve got their sights set on Fiji. EXCEPT the stupid San Francisco fog has other ideas and their flight is cancelled AND they get caught on live television so the secret’s out and the families start knocking on the door immediately.

Not only are Brad (Vince Vaughn) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon) on the hook for 4 Christmases, they’re also meeting each other’s parents for the very first time. And what a MV5BMTg4Nzg1MzE1OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTI1NzMyNw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1492,1000_AL_motley crew that turns out to be! Kate has a cougarrific Mom (Mary Steenburgen) who’s currently dating a rockstar pastor (Dwight Yoakam) and a sister (Kristin Chenoweth) who is dead set on dredging up her entire embarrassing past and a father (Jon Voight) who’s trying to turn over a new leaf. Meanwhile, Brad hippie Mom (Sissy Spacek) is dating his childhood friend who’s aggressively trying to stepfather him despite the non-existent age difference, and his Dad (Robert Duvall) is rough around the edges, to put it nicely, while his brothers (Tim McGraw, Jon Favreau), UFC wannabes, take rough-housing to an uncomfortable level. So I guess the question is for Brad and Kate: do they know each other well enough to survive this family tornado? Or does their relationship depend on constant fun and no entanglements?

The truth is, every family is a juggling act. I remember the first time I brought Sean home to meet my crazy family. I had prepared him as well as I could: someone will cry, someone will lock themselves in the bathroom in a fit of drama, someone will overshare, someone else will shock him with a highly inappropriate question or six. And you know what? ALL of those things happened that first Thanksgiving, as I knew they would, because they always do. But we had a grand time because they’re a fun if dramatic bunch and the problem with families is not really what they reveal of themselves but what they reveal of YOU – as in that hidden part that you shield from new dating partners. But your Mom will inevitably drag out an old photo album that she refuses to cull of your bad haircut phase, and your sister will you call you by your highly unflattering childhood nickname, and your carefully curated cool girl persona will crumble faster than Mom can say “Who wants seconds?”

Anyway, that’s the holidays. They don’t always bring out the best in us, but maybe they bring out our true selves, for better or worse. And if you can’t let that guard drop in front of your partner, then maybe you aren’t really as close as you think. Four Christmases isn’t a great movie, not destined to be a holiday classic, but you can do worse, I suppose, and around the holidays, any excuse to cuddle up on the couch is a good one.