Richard Gere, Diane Keaton, William H. Macy, and Susan Sarandon in Maybe I Do.
Michelle (Emma Roberts) was raised by her parents to think love lasts forever, and is ready to take the next step in her relationship. Her boyfriend Allen (Luke Bracey) loves what they have and is terrified that marriage will ruin it just like decades of marriage has ruined his parents. Debonair Howard (Richard Gere) had a one-night stand with sultry Monica (Susan Sarandon) that turned into a four-month extramarital affair, and is ready to break it off because once emotions get involved, how is this affair any different than his marriage? Broken-hearted romantic Sam (William H. Macy) meets caring Grace (Diane Keaton) and the two spend an intimate night, not of passion, but of sharing a bucket of chicken and just…talking, baring themselves and being seen by another person in a way neither has experienced from their spouses in years.
What do any of these have to do with each other? Well, Michelle’s parents? They’re Howard and Grace. And Allen’s? They’re Monica and Sam. And when Michelle issues Allen a marriage ultimatum and decides the best way to work out their future is by having a dinner and having their respective parents “meet” for the “first” time, things are going to get more than a little awkward.
The relationship machinations put Maybe I Do very much in traditional rom-com territory, and it nails a very 1990s sort of rom-com aesthetic where comedy comes from setting up a silly premise filled with contradictory characters and letting the sparks fly, rather than a more modern sensibility that would feed almost exclusively on awkwardness. (Early on there is one nod to a more cringe comedy tone: Michelle and Allen’s relationship foibles are established at a wedding, where she prepares to catch the bouquet and set the next phase of her relationship in motion, and Allen leaps off a table to snatch it out of her hands. It’s a bit much.)
But despite the plot contrivances, writer/director Michael Jacobs (adapting his own play for the screen) aims for Maybe I Do to have deeper conversations—about the nature of love, about how to keep the spark alive decades into a marriage, about seeing your spouse for who they really are, about how parental relationships can warp their kids’ expectations of love. This is Jacobs’ first time in the director’s chair in a feature film, but he has a résumé as a TV producer (he co-created Charles in Charge, Dinosaurs, and Boy Meets World) and playwright going back decades. His direction isn’t showy but it’s sturdy and extends that throwback ‘90s rom-com vibe, right down to the adult-contempo soundtrack, with a warm piano score, a scene highlighted by Shania Twain’s “Still the One,” and the opening credits, written in swirly script and soundtracked by an original but classic-sounding ballad, “Always You” by Ruth B.
For a first-timer, Jacobs had an embarrassment of riches to work with in having actors of this caliber to bring his characters to life. Macy gets the most to work with, and knocks it out of the park. We meet him in a darkened movie theater, alone, sobbing to a depressing black and white foreign film as he tears Twizzlers into tiny pieces and chucks it in his popcorn. His Sam is depressed, lonely, beaten down by his icy marriage to Monica, but when he sees his son potentially squandering the best thing that’s ever happened to him, his dormant romantic streak comes back to life. “Love is just a word we’ve attached to describe a feeling we won’t really understand until we’re old enough to look back on it,” he tells his son, “and wonder if we ever did.” And even though his own marriage has left him bitter and isolated, Sam is still a true believer: “Some things have to be timeless,” he says, “otherwise the whole world unravels.” Macy delivers these lines with the quavering intensity of someone finally breaking out of his shell and speaking his true, deepest feelings aloud for the first time in far too long, possibly ever.
While Sam’s stance on romance is the heart of the movie, the rest of the cast gets to have more fun. Gere’s Howard is a no-nonsense, tell-it-like-he-sees-it fella with a quick wit and a moderately thick New Yawk accent. Susan Sarandon lights up the screen as the naughty, fun-loving free spirit who knows what she wants and will gladly take it if it’s not given to her. The script gives Keaton the short end of the stick (kind of surprising, as she is an executive producer!), turning her Grace into a sort of cartoon approximation of a Really Good Person; that said, the movie calls for her character to be kind, sweet, and moral, and that comes through in her performance.
It’s refreshing to see so much time spent on the real romantic quandaries of people in their sixties (the characters, I mean; the actors are all in their seventies), but the movie primarily hinges on the kids, and that’s where things get a little wobbly. Despite the silly bridal bouquet stunt, this plotline starts on solid footing, with a lengthy argument between the two that gives Roberts a chance to really explore the character of Michelle, a girl whose current attitude is, to quote When Harry Met Sally, “when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” But what feels like it’s missing is why, specifically, that person is Allen. Bracey just kind of smiles his way through most of the movie, more aw-shucks exasperated by Michelle than genuinely engaged with her argument. Bracey doesn’t really sell what Michelle sees in Allen, or why Allen has cold feet, until fairly deep into the movie, making the couple’s argument feel one-sided and arbitrary—Howard even notes how arbitrary the central argument feels, frustratedly telling his daughter “You can’t think about spending your life with someone or never seeing them again at the same time!” There are other things that don’t quite ring true, or aren’t explored deeply enough within the film’s 95-minute runtime: Grace and Sam’s connection feels like it’s established with shorthand, and Sam and Monica’s marriage (what it was like in the early days, and why it morphed into the sad state it’s in now) could have used more exploration to really sell Sam’s romantic idealism.
(But my biggest sticking point on the believability of the movie: at some point in the movie, every single one of these characters wears their shoes in bed. Who does that?!)
In general, the tone of Maybe I Do bounces back and forth between frothy light comedy and more serious fare, and its more conventional elements are what keep it firmly in “good, not great” territory. But when contrasted to the floods of low drama fluff offered up by the likes of Hallmark, Maybe I Do makes for a much more satisfying meal—it may be mere rom-com comfort food, but the multi-generational aspects and the stabs at getting to the heart of the nature of romance offer something a little more (ful)filling. | Jason Green