Thursday, January 24, 2013

‘I Give It a Year’ (2013) directed by Dan Mazer



First impressions aren't great.  I’ve got a well developed aversion to the ‘wedding comedy’ genre and if I never see another ‘hilariously’ offensive best man’s speech in a film I may well die happy.  I sink down into the cinema seat, wondering why on earth I’d bothered to come out to see what looks like utter dross.  Some kind of hi-energy poppy dance number plays over the opening credits.  So far, so awful.

The set-up is pretty straightforward, Josh and Nat (Rafe Spall and Rose Byrne) have fallen in love and quickly decide to get married.  We open at their extravagant wedding, where older, experienced married couples are looking on suspiciously.  One of them cynically mutters “I give it a year”.  Soon the newlyweds are at each other’s throats, things that were cute and funny have become exasperating and they’re slowly realising that their lives are quite different.  Thrown into the mix are Chloe and Guy (Anna Faris and Simon Baker) who seem to be Josh’s and Nat’s perfect matches.  Can the newlyweds resist their respective temptations?  Will they learn the lesson that a successful marriage is something you have to work at?  Do opposites really attract?

Rafe Spall as Josh and Stephen Merchant as Stephen Merchant.  I forget what his character's called.  He basically plays himself.
These aren't questions that keep me up at night.  But not too far into the film something strange happened, I began to laugh.  Make no mistake about it, ‘I Give It a Year’ is not a good film.  It's competently but boringly directed, and while it's shot in central London Mazer manages to make everything look very bland.  Plot-wise it’s no great shakes either, the first half of the film is a series of tonally inconsistent sketches strung together by a vague narrative.  

Despite all this I was surprised to find myself laughing quite a bit.  In many ways I Give It a Year’ is a very strange film.  Aesthetically it’s the definition of middle-of-the-road, looking like a hundred other romantic comedies.  But, crucially, the writing is actually pretty sharp, and you eventually realise that the film is turning into a neat deconstruction of the romantic comedy genre.

On the whole the cast is pretty damn funny as well. Rose Byrne gets the slightly duff end of the stick playing a snooty career woman and even though we’re not strictly supposed to be taking sides it’s easy to find her character far more annoying than Rafe Spall’s Josh, a chilled out, slightly slobby writer.  But Byrne does have some decent comedic chops, even as she does end up playing the ‘straight man’ to Spall. 

Rose Byrne as Nat
Josh feels like the kind of role that a few years ago could be played by Simon Pegg, and so while Rafe Spall is funny enough, he feels a bit miscast.   When Nat says to Josh, “I don’t really ‘do’ good looking” it doesn’t work, Spall is obviously pretty damn handsome, there’s a even few shirtless scenes showing off how well-toned he is.  But crucially he's  funny, likeable and charming.  There's a nub of genuine emotion in his performance, which goes a long way towards making the film work.

As the ‘perfect’ matches for our beleaguered married couple, Simon Baker and Anna Faris are both excellent, although Faris has the edge.  The role of Guy, a dashing, humanitarian bleach manufacturer seems to be played more by his smart haircut and a very nice pair of spectacles than the actor himself.  Making our alpha male perfect professional a bleach manufacturer is a slightly odd choice, although it does give us an enjoyably weird sequence where he give us a tour of his solvent factory in the Midlands.  Anne Faris’ Chloe is far more fun.  She suffers slightly from the script repeatedly referring to her as unsexy and plain, which she clearly isn’t.  She does get the single best scene of the film though, as she unsuccessfully trying to join in a threesome.  She gets repeatedly elbowed out of the way in a scene that gets funnier and more awkward the longer it goes on.  It’s got almost zero connection to the wider plot, but it’s funny enough in its own right.

Simon Baker as Guy.  Bleach manufacturer and owner of some cool ass glasses.
Filling out the supporting cast are a plethora of British TV comedy actors, ranging from a great but woefully underused Kerry Howard (of Him and Her fame) to a weirdly unfunny Olivia Colman.  This is the second film I’ve seen lately where she’s peculiarly off-key, which is confusing because she’s good in pretty much everything else I’ve seen her in. 

More than most romantic comedies, ‘I Give it a Year’ is pleasantly realistic about the idea of marriage.  Traditionally, weddings are the ‘happy ever after’ climax of romantic films, with the bulk of the story occupied with the relationship up to that point.  Here the structure is neatly inverted, with a couple steadily falling out of love with each other throughout the course of the film.  The script is full of bullshit advice from characters about the first year being the most difficult, and how to tolerate a relationship fuelled by loathing and resentment.  It’s eye-rollingly clichéd stuff with the result that, interestingly, you begin to root for their marriage to fail.

This kind of subversion makes me wonder who is going to watch this film.  It’s cynical, darkly comic and at times filthy, with a healthy disregard for convention, but clothed in the genre clichés of a terrible romantic comedy.  People going into it expecting a romantic, life-affirming sappy comedy for Valentine’s Day are going to be disappointed, as are those expecting something along the lines of the writer/director’s last films ‘Borat’ and ‘Bruno’.  The film exceeded my expectations, although they were rock-bottom.  ‘I Give It a Year’ is an interesting experiment and genuinely exciting when it strikes out into unfamiliar territory.  But even though it cleverly plays with your expectations, it's too unevenly funny and too stylistically dull to be a genuinely good film.

***/ *****

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3 Responses to “‘I Give It a Year’ (2013) directed by Dan Mazer”

Margo Kowalczyk said...
May 17, 2013 at 12:02 AM

Certainly, whoever wrote the review was completely inept at writing and lacked the intelligence to form any intellectually sound comment, except for the one, "This kind subversion makes me wonder who is going to watch this film". Indeed, not you Sir/Madam, I would hope! There is a mass production of movies going on around us, you are very welcome to join it instead at your own convenience!

Though, following the rest of the masses you seem to be preoccupied by a smart haircut and a very nice pair of spectacles. Why do not you start writing about those? It would be much better for everyone!


londoncitynights said...
May 17, 2013 at 12:11 AM

Did you like the film or not? I genuinely can't tell. And re the hairdo and glasses - what can I say - Simon Baker just looks great in this. Never underestimate the power of a good hairdo!


iPanache said...
June 11, 2013 at 11:15 PM

I thought it was funny - Anna Faris was a bit disappointing but overall I liked the humour..
On a VERY serious note - what designer are those brown specs Simon Baker is wearing. Any ideas?!


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