Not many men would readily admit they enjoy romantic comedies. If they did, they would fear being called out in front of their boys as if watching a romantic comedy was like the worst thing imaginable. As someone who has no qualms about watching a romantic comedy, let it be known that I lean more to the relationship angle and not necessarily to the “honeymoon ending” that women tend to favor.
Having seen almost every imaginable pairing of Hugh Grant with whomever or Jennifer Aniston with whomever, sometimes it’s good to go into a romantic comedy without much knowledge of the leads beforehand. I Give It a Year, a wink-wink nudge-nudge joke most notably associated with a doomed marriage, avoids the build up of a romance and starts where most rom-coms end – with a wedding. Surely this was writer/director Dan Mazer trying to be original, but the short courtship before walking the aisle is exaggerated. The few laughs that do occur early in the proceedings are from the best man, Danny (Stephen Merchant), a milquetoast of a man to look at, but someone who’s never encountered a sexual innuendo or reference he didn’t mind sharing inappropriately.
Such language may come as a shock to some, but the film’s acerbic nature is enforced once you know that Mazer previously worked with Sacha Baron Cohen as a co-writer on both Borat and Bruno. Those who tired of Cohen after Borat may feel the same while watching Mazer’s first stint as a filmmaker, as I Give It a Year fails at being a romantic comedy that deconstructs the genre; it ends up falling into trappings of the genre’s familiar tropes.
From the get-go newlyweds Nat (Rose Byrne) and Josh (Rafe Spall) seem destined for a one and done when it comes to marital bliss. This much is made clear by Nat’s sister, Naomi (Minnie Driver), who whispers to her husband (Jason Flemyng), “I give it a year,” as rice is being strewn as the couple exit the church. The rest of the comedy educates us as to why this couple, that appears romantically perfect, is in fact romantically challenged. How Mazer goes about this is by having the troubled couple expunging their marital problems with a therapist. The whole process is a bad framing device and only hits on problems experienced within those first few months, leaving the audience to wonder if there were any warning signs during the courtship.
To liven up the proceedings the story incorporates a bit of forbidden fruit for the couple on the rocks. Nat begins a friendly flirtation with a new business client named Guy (The Mentalist’s Simon Baker), and Josh reconnects with his old flame Chloe (Anna Farris). Clearly forgetting the vows they took in front of hundreds of witnesses we have scenarios that are morally questionable but also illustrates how truly awful men and women can be. The only one with any common sense is Mini Driver as Naomi who recounts to Nat the reasons why she has been married to her husband for so long. It’s not all about love. Sometimes it’s about the imperfections we fall in love with. Sadly, Nat and Josh can’t realize this. Maybe it’s because they begin to stray from one another and it hasn’t even been a year! How are we supposed to empathize with their plight, when both parties are equally guilty at being stupid?
Scenes of philandering and romantic foibles could have garnered laughs from this critic, but Mazer’s pen must have run out of creative ink when it comes to jokes. While there are a few chuckles every now and then, the humor seems stale considering what’s proliferated American cinemas thanks to Judd Apatow’s storytelling workshop, which includes Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, and countless other players. One scene that has Anna Farris finding herself in a three-way with a friend from work, and another friend from work, starts off funny then continues to the point of being not funny (call it the Family Guy effect).
As the story progresses we get situations built on coincidence and happenstance, what looked to have been a deconstructive romantic comedy becomes more and more like the rom-coms it tries to send-up. By the time Stephen Merchant shows up again, late in the game as to bookend this turkey, it’s too late. The ending is so ludicrous, but also appropriate for anyone who has ever seen a romantic comedy, or two, or three. I Give It a Year may be a British comedy that thinks itself as reinventing the romantic comedy wheel, but here we get honeymoon ending followed by unfunny scenes from a marriage. And a short one at that.
Writer/Director: Dan Mazer
Notable Cast: Rose Byrne, Rafe Spall, Simon Baker, Anna Farris, Minnie Driver, Jason Flemyng, Stephen Merchant