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There has been a curious trend toward veiled conservatism in romance films lately. Take last year’s “Look Both Ways” starring Lili Reinhart, which claimed to be a film about a young woman's choices but proved to be insidious pro-life propaganda. Similarly, “Maybe I Do,” written and directed by first-time director Michael Jacobs, based on his play, appears to be a farce about two sets of parents hitting their midlife crises just as their kids contemplate marriage, but is one of the most regressive, anti-sex films about infidelity I’ve ever seen.
Set throughout two nights (plus a coda scene at the end), Jacobs’ film can never shake its stage roots, introducing its six protagonists in pairs of two. Grace (Diane Keaton, practically parodying herself while also bizarrely playing an evangelical Christian) spends the night chatting with Sam (William H. Macy, finding more humanity in his role than the rest of the cast) after meeting him at an art house movie where he was silently sobbing alone. Unbeknownst to them their respective spouses Howard (Richard Gere) and Monica (Susan Sarandon) are together at a fancy hotel, about to end the affair they have been carrying on for the last four months. Meanwhile, their grown children Allen (Luke Bracey) and Michelle (Emma Roberts) have been dating so long that while at their friend’s wedding, she is the only bridesmaid who wants to catch the bouquet so her happily ever after can begin, yet somehow their respective parents have never met.
This is meant to be a farce, so the far-fetched coincidences are par for the course. Yet, the editing in this first half of the film is an absolute mess, with no rhyme or reason when it shifts perspectives between the three couples. There is no emotional evolution between scenes, even as “big things” happen to them. Also, despite one ongoing affair, one possible affair, and one relationship on the brink of marriage, each coupling is as chaste and sexless as an after-school special.
Jacobs has no visual acumen, filming most scenes with bizarre wide shots that distance his cast from each other and the audience. Scenes that should resonate on deep emotional levels fall flat within his penchant for two-shots rather than trusting his actors with close-ups. When the action shifts to their respective houses they feel less like lived-in homes than staged open houses, sparsely decorated by a realtor with the actors posed for a brochure.
Along with the lack of chemistry between the cast and the antiseptic vibe of their dwellings, everyone is strapped with absurdly antiquated dialogue. When Grace mentions how weird it is they’ve never met their daughter’s boyfriend’s parents, Howard replies “no father wants to meet the father of the man who's been getting it for free from their daughter.” Readers, I cringed.
The script particularly paints the women in the most regressive of lights. Grace blames her becoming “a potato” on neglect from Howard as if she has no sense of self outside of how he treats her. Monica is cast as a harpy who harangues her husband and her lover. She also picks a fight with a younger woman, jealous of the woman’s beautiful hair and face, as if Susan Sarandon isn’t still an absolute smoke show and knows it. Later she says she was “making it with a corpse” when Gere reveals his character is 68 (in real life Sarandon is 76, Gere is 73). Worst yet, Monica’s sexuality and confidence are treated as the sole reason her marriage is failing. Meanwhile, Michelle seems to have planted her entire existence into whether she and Allen marry or not. We never find out what her job is or whether she has friends (beyond the bride of the aforementioned wedding) or any life outside of Allen.
What’s so strange about this particular cast being in this particular kind of archaic, conservative romance is how against the grain of each and every one of their careers it is. Keaton and Gere broke sexual taboos in films like “Looking for Mr. Goodbar” and “American Gigolo.” Susan Sarandon personified a certain kind of liberated sexual woman in films like “Bull Durham” and “White Palace.” Macy has played a cuckold before in films like “Boogie Nights” and “Pleasantville,” but neither film could remotely be labeled conservative in their explorations of marriage and sexuality. Most recently, Roberts and Bracey starred together in “Holidate,” which explored the contemporary mores of friends with benefits (even if that film eventually had a traditional ending).
What drew this cast to this film? One that boils its characters down to cardboard copies of real people whose only aim in life is traditional heterosexual, Christian, nuclear family units without any defying characteristics beyond their roles within those units. One hopes they were paid well so this can remain a blip on their respective filmographies and their following projects are worthy of their talents.
Ultimately, what was supposed to be a film about the value of marriage and finding the right life partner is a cautionary tale about the perils of investing your entire identity in your romantic relationships. Although the eventual wedding is meant as a happy ending for Michelle, it’s more like a horror movie with the girl destined to be trapped, for better or for worse. It's just like her parents because of a promise they made when they were younger, different people, because this film sets up a world that refuses to accept that divorce isn’t necessarily bad.