I Give It a Year (2013) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA rated: Not rated, but would be R for crude and sexual content, brief nudity, some drug content, and language
Running time: 97 min.
Cast: Rose Byrne, Rafe Spall, Anna Faris, Simon Baker, Stephen Merchant, Minnie Driver, Jason Flemyng, Olivia Colman
Director: Dan Mazer
Screenplay: Dan Mazer
Review published May 27, 2013
Rose Byrne (X-Men First Class, Knowing) and Rafe Spall (Life of Pi, Prometheus) star as newlywed couple Nat and Josh, who were married after a brief courtship that some friends deemed doomed from the outset due to certain incompatibilities the lovebirds may have overlooked. These doubts ring true, as they were once happy as can be, but now they just get on one another's nerves with every passing conversation. They decide to see a marriage therapist (Colman, Hyde Park on Hudson) to hash out their issues, and things are difficult enough as it is when Josh's former long-time flame, Chloe (Faris, The Dictator), returns from Africa after abandoning that relationship for four years, while Nat is busy flirting with a handsome American client, Guy (Baker, The Lodger), that she is currently trying to drum up business with in her firm. With all of these distractions and temptations, the two want to make things work, but how?
I Give It a Year has a novel premise at its core, which is, "What happens when the typical rom-com couple of the funny, loveable man and the alluring, romantic woman actually try to make marriage work when they barely know each other?" According to writer-director Dan Mazer, it probably doesn't, as the two have so much they don't know about each other, and those things they once found endearing grow increasingly annoying once it's time to get serious about their relationship. Mazer, whose main claim to fame is his comedic association with Sacha Baron Cohen, writing for such films as Borat and Bruno, goes one step beyond, by introducing the characters these two seem more of a natural fit to be with, and the result is two people trying their best to stay faithful to their vows with a partner they love but aren't really sure they like, while keeping their feelings for their natural suitors at bay.
Mazer's film is a wildly mixed bag. It definitely has some laugh-out-loud moments, but its inherently unlikeable and wholly superficial characters ultimately leave audiences without a rooting interest in what happens. If I had to recommend the film, it might be to those who enjoy ribald sex comedies like There's Something About Mary, in which we laugh more at their foibles than care about them finding love. Mary was better at keeping a proper tone for its comedy all of the way through, but I Give It a Year loads up its funniest moments up front, then begins a slow but steady decline into unfunny territory as we get to know more about these rather loathsome people and their selfish behavior.
I like Rose Byrne as an actress, especially in dramas, but I do feel she is ill suited for a leading actress in a comedy that requires her to perform physical humor. She was the least funny of the Bridesmaids ensemble, and she isn't funny here. By contrast, Anna Faris, not a better actress in general, but more of a natural comedian, especially with raunch, is just right for this material. Spall is fine as the fun-seeking hubby who frequently is emasculated by his buzz kill of a wife. Baker is always a fine fit as the heartthrob charmer who can work his magic so long as we don't get too close to see his imperfections. However, the best gags go to supporting players like Stephen Merchant (Hall Pass, The Invention of Lying) as Josh's uncouth best friend and Minnie Driver (Barney's Version, Ella Enchanted) as Nat's mouthy, cynical sister.
Merchant's 'best man' speech at the reception is funny, but the reactions smack of disingenuousness at the cost of the film's premise. Some of the better gags include embarrassments, such as a digital photo frame set up in the parents' home that cycles through Nat and Josh's honeymoon vacation photos from a memory stick that contains a few that Josh forgot to weed out. Even this scene goes on too long and loses authenticity once the laughs are had. Often the set pieces are DOA, such as a lavish scene wherein Guy goes all out in wooing Nat when talking business, but goes too far, including releasing some doves that fly a little too close to the ceiling fan. A scene involving playing charades with the family that sees Josh taking things a step too far in the raunch direction to win seems funnier on paper than how it plays out.
I Give It a Year should give some receptive audiences a few heart chuckles, at least for a while, so I would say to wait for a cheap rental or a premium cable channel viewing, where you can turn the thing off once you've hit your limit with the distasteful underbelly of its premise. It is funny in spots, but it tries so very hilarious to be all of the time, which often comes off as feel artificial and forced. Mazer's writing is certainly funny, but the anti-rom-com formula wears thin. I give it a 'meh'.
©2013 Vince Leo