In the romantic comedy “Maybe I Do,” a young couple played by Emma Roberts and Luke Bracey debate whether marriage is in their future. She’s all in; he’s all “What?!” But this bland, beautiful duo might as well be an afterthought. The star attractions are their respective parents, played by a murderers’ row of rom-com veterans including Diane Keaton, Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon. Rounding out the foursome is William H. Macy, and you have a quartet of seasoned stars who manage, despite the script’s shortcomings, to generate some light absurdist sparkle and emotional nuance as two late-in-life couples dealing with relationship issues and extramarital dalliances of their own.
At its strongest, “Maybe I Do” is a cheery look at a not-so-cheery subject: Loneliness in a long marriage. It comes from writer and first-time feature film director Michael Jacobs, whose resume is mostly in TV (notably as the creator of the ‘90s ABC comedy “Dinosaurs”).
Early on, there’s a scene that suggests Jacobs has some interesting things to say about the passage of time and the way restlessness and disappointments can smother you like a weighted blanket that brings no comfort. Sitting alone in a diner one night, Gere’s character spies a young couple locking lips at a table nearby. He stares, wistfully. His server walks over and pauses to look as well. And then she says somewhat resignedly: “Not our world anymore.” There’s so much subtext in that moment.
What does it look like when you share a home with someone but don’t share your life anymore? When you don’t feel adored — or even seen? When you have a midlife crisis two decades too late in your 70s and find yourself wondering: Is this all there is?
Romantic comedies are so rarely about this particular stage of life, but the film is too hesitant, too nervous to actually let these people talk, and I mean really talk, about any of it. There are monologues, but not the kind of back-and-forth that gives a you sense of who these couples were when things weren’t so dire. They’ve been grinning and bearing it for too long, and then suddenly the blister pops and they can’t ignore it anymore. That’s usually when the real conversations happen: What now?
Couldn’t tell you, because Jacobs cuts to the final scene, when all has been resolved (or dissolved, depending on the couple). Missing are the kind of hard, vulnerable adult conversations that happen between two people hashing out whether there’s anything left to salvage.
Maybe the film is more interested in the younger couple, you’re thinking. Well, no, that’s not the case, either. Roberts and Bracey were romantic leads previously in 2020′s “Holidate” and Roberts otherwise has a hefty list of rom-com credits. She knows her way around the genre. Teaming them up again should work better than it does, but they’re given so little to play with. There’s a toothpaste commercial quality to the way their characters have been conceived, with vaguely sketched out traits as opposed to personalities: She’s still harboring bruised feelings because one time her mother said she would never be a ballerina, so she became the quirky girl instead (she is self-evidently not a quirky girl) and he’s … handsome and just trying to keep the peace. Where’s the spark? Where’s the anything?
They live together but never discussed tying the knot until now. Whatever, I’ll go with it. She’s insistent and with an ultimatum hanging in the air, they go their separate ways for the night to seek counsel from their respective parents. Her mom and dad (Keaton and Gere) decide the solution is to finally meet his mom and dad (Sarandon and Macy). Or as Gere’s character puts it: “Our kid sleeps with their kid — doesn’t that entitle us to a dinner?”
The point is getting the parents in the same room together for some humorously chaotic dysfunction that’s all very couples swap — the kind wherein the couples don’t even realize they’ve been swapping until it’s too late and all their secrets are laid out in a buffet of embarrassments.
Macy and Sarandon’s characters are the tougher sell; he’s wrapped up in delusions that he’s a good man who made a youthful mistake and has been paying for it ever since. He’s also the kind of guy who threatens violence against his wife because she annoys him. Kinda saps the “com” out of the “rom.” Sarandon’s character is positioned as a sex-starved, latter-day version of “Fatal Attraction” and it’s conspicuous that no men in her life speak kindly to her for the sin of … not being demure enough? There are complicated issues at the root of this story, of a mismatched couple who are well and truly soured on one another. If only the film wanted to really explore some of that.
Gere is the movie’s saving grace and somehow makes it all seem worth it. He and Keaton worked together with markedly different results in 1977′s “Looking for Mr. Goodbar,” so to see them playing a couple who have palpable love and tenderness for one another, even amid their problems, gives a warm and unexpected frisson to their pairing.
But it’s more than that. Gere is barely suppressing a smile in almost every scene he’s in, bringing an affable “sure, where do ya’ need me?” vibe to the proceedings.
He is delighted to be here — and we, by extension, are delighted by him.
“Maybe I Do” — 2 stars (out of 4)
Where to watch: In theaters
Nina Metz is a Tribune critic