I Give It a Year is one very confused movie.
Written and directed by the Dan Mazer, who is perhaps best known as Sacha Baron-Cohen’s writing and production partner of long standing, it aims, somewhat unsuccessfully, to be all things to all moviegoers.
In part, and this forms the frame into which all sorts of very funny ideas and characters are poured, it aspires to be a thoroughly modern romantic comedy.
You know the kind.
Boy meets girl.
Boy falls in love with girl, and of course, vice versa.
And then happily boy and girl get married.
All very lovely and sweet and “awww” inducing and all taking place within the first five minutes or so of the movie which effectively starts with the wedding and it must be said, one of the funniest obscenity-laden and utterly inappropriate best man speeches I have ever seen (not to mention a salutary lesson in what can happen when beautiful candle-filled balloon meets flammable thatched roof barn).
Of course being a decidedly modern twist on the rom-com formula, girl and boy then proceed to rue the day they ever got married.
Girl starts pining for her new handsome, rich new client while the boy wonders why he and his ex-girlfriend, a saint-worthy toiler in the fields of charity, didn’t make it to the altar instead.
Ain’t love grand?
Well yes it is, but as the movie very quickly makes clear, not when you’re with the wrong person.
And with the wrong person both novelist Josh (Rafe Spall) and ad agency executive Nat (Rose Byrne) most certainly are.
What to do, what to do you ask?
One thought might be to examine why these two otherwise intelligent, well-adjusted adults chose to enter into this relationship in the first place.
Alas that never happens (at least not in any meaningful way).
We see the misery yes, the unhappiness, the ugly clashing together of incompatible world views, career plans, and garbage-taking out protocols (plus that old hoary chestnut the empty toilet roll and the toilet seat left in, gasp, the upright position) but little else as these one note characters make it very clear that their marriage is a Bad Idea.
A Very Bad Idea indeed.
As their first year of marriage splutters and dies, and despite some last minute attempts to save it, circles ever closer to the romantic drain, we are treated to some very fine farcical British comedy as a cast of undeniably funny but one-dimensional (and sometimes not even that) characters troop in and out, some very briefly, of Nat and Josh’s now-blighted life together.
And this is where the movie’s other storytelling personality is unleashed with mixed results.
These moments of sometimes brilliant farce suffer from sitting very uncomfortably cheek-by-jowl with the less than cheery images of a marriage in terminal decline, which isn’t really funny no matter how you dress it (a relationally challenged and anatomically-correct doll-obsessed counsellor, played by Olivia Colman, does give it a shot but funny though she is, fails because, well, you can’t make the unfunny, funny).
It is a pity because some of these scenes are truly hilarious.
We are treated at one point to Josh and Nat writhing in excruciating embarrassment as the honeymoon photos of them having sex end up on a digital photo frame given as Christmas present by Nat’s upper-crust parents who, naturally enough since we’re talking crude cliches throughout, are snobbish,prudish folks with few redeeming qualities.
Josh’s attempts to initially forestall his in-laws, who loathe him with a passion, from seeing the photos are comic gold as is the silent resignation when he and Nat realise all is lost and their sex life is now on show for all to see.
In another, Josh, again with the in-laws at Christmas, uses rather unfortunate reference points to win a game of charades, traumatising Nat’s grandmother in the process.
Yes it is lad-ish humour, and admittedly crudely constructed and trading on social awkwardness and great discomfort but it is very funny and had me chuckling out loud on numerous occasions, something which rarely happens in comedies for me.
So you will laugh, and laugh often if you have even a small liking for well-executed British farce.
But as I said, it sits uncomfortably close to a relationship falling to pieces, and is thus robbed of some of its mirth-inducing joy.
The presence of this gross-out humour, which would have made a fine movie all by itself, also diminishes the couple’s steps towards new lives with the objects of their affections.
Josh spends much of the movie making tentative and awkward steps to a reconciliation with charity-worker, Chloe (Anna Faris) while Nat moves from all-business to all-lust with her hunky client played by Simon Baker – Faris and Baker get the lion’s share of the best lions and are the only ones with any real character nuancing – but any joy we take in their inevitable pairings (c’mon you didn’t see this coming?; Rom-Com 101 my friends) in lessened considerably by the accompanying pratfalls, slapstick and lad-ish jokes.
It’s not like romance and bawdy humour can’t co-exist in the same movie – Something About Mary was a brilliant example of the two elements in perfect crowd-pleasing harmony – but in I Give It a Year they are the odd couple of cinematic storytelling and Mazer never really makes a compelling case for them being together in the same film.
While a damn near hilarious happy ending almost saves the day – the scene where Josh asks Nat for her hand in divorce is side-splittingly funny (and I felt as relieved as they both were that it was all over) – it sadly is too little too late for a movie that aims high but fails to find either its identity or its mark.
- Viewed Friday 8 February 2013.