Snarkier than your average Hollywood romantic comedy, the fitfully hilarious British outing I Give It a Year seeks to slice up happily-ever-after tropes with a hacksaw. It winds up rather inelegantly shoehorning salty humor and abrasive sentiment into a genre template, but an above-average number of laugh-out-loud set pieces compensate for the resulting wobbly narrative. The film is set to sustain a solid run in the UK, where it was released to take advantage of Valentine’s Day, and its future overseas looks bright, if somewhat limited by two untested leads.
Ushering the ferociously cynical Dan Mazer (responsible for the Borat and Bruno screenplays) into the cozily smug stable of U.K. rom-com standard-bearer Working Title (home to Richard Curtis and Hugh Grant) was bound to result in a union as knotty as that of the film’s incompatible newlywed protagonists.
They are Nat (Rose Byrne) and Josh (Rafe Spall), a comely couple whose fairy-tale wedding kicks off the film at the point credits are rolling on most rom-coms. There are perfectly arranged posies and sparkly musical montages, but reactions are mixed: “It’s just like a Hugh Grant film,” sighs one of Nat’s co-workers, while Nat’s sister (a deliciously caustic Minnie Driver) doesn’t even exit the church before delivering the prediction of the title.
Sure enough, within months, Nat and Josh are seeing a couple’s counselor. It’s clear the pin-thin, high maintenance advertising executive and the emotionally stunted, layabout writer are woefully unsuited and that Mazer is subverting the boy-meets-girl formula so that it plays in reverse.
It’s the opposite of uplifting and it’s no surprise the writer-director fails to find much to warm the cockles in the marriage’s disintegration. Mazer does manage to jam in a hearty helping of outrageously funny situations and, like his Sacha Baron Cohen collaborations, the gags are stronger than the story. They also have a decidedly bitter, if not downright nasty, edge.
The supporting cast hogs all the best scenes, which often play like discrete comedy sketches. Bug-eyed Brit comic Stephen Merchant, Ricky Gervais’ long-time partner in comedy crime, does a fine line in toxic inappropriateness as Josh’s obnoxious best man. Olivia Colman (Peep Show) is comic perfection as the couple’s unhinged counselor, wielding anatomically correct dolls like weapons. And there’s an entire scene written around Tim Key’s droll turn as a life insurance salesman.
None of the characters even approaches likable. But Mazer’s rom-com revolt goes only so far and someone somewhere has to fall in love.
Enter an impossibly smooth Simon Baker (the Australian actor best known for The Mentalist) as wealthy American Guy, who brings his business and his romantic A-game to Nat’s ad agency. Josh is oblivious to their growing attraction as he is spending more and more time with his ex-girlfriend Chloe (Anna Faris in a long brown wig), a frumpy aid worker who is almost painfully anti-fashion.
Faris is an unusual choice for the role, but earns her keep with a screwball sex scene involving the most awkward threesome committed to film. Aussie actress Byrne shows off fine comic chops, proving her Bridesmaids success was no fluke, but Spall (Life of Pi) leaves his leading man stuck in first gear as a charmless blockhead.
Ben Davis’ lensing lends a Curtis-like spangle to the London locations and the soundtrack features an appealing assortment of laid-back indie tunes, including a lovely trance mix of “Don’t Dream It’s Over” by LoLo. Erratic editing and a mess of an ending (we’re spared the meet-cute only to get a hastily arranged “part-cute”) undercut what little flow there is to this tart-tongued, emotionally aloof anti-romance.
Opens: Australia, Feb. 28
Production company: Working Title, StudioCanal, Translux
Cast: Rose Byrne, Rafe Spall, Simon Baker, Anna Faris, Stephen Merchant, Minnie Driver
Writer-director: Dan Mazer
Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Kris Thykier
Executive producers: Debra Hayward, Liza Chasin, Olivier Courson, Ron Halpern
Co-producer: Jane Hooks
Director of photography: Ben Davis
Production designer: Simon Elliott
Costume designer: Charlotte Walter
Music: Ilan Eshkeri
Editor: Tony Cranstoun
No rating, 102 minutes