[Review] - I Give It A Year

Courtesy of Working Title Films
Romantic comedies are in desperate need of something new. Every genre has it's tired, overused formula, but most other genres have, in equal measure, those examples that subvert or manipulate that formula. Romantic comedies tend not to be brave, or imaginative. Why "fix" something that isn't broken? Just cast Katherine Heigl, make whatever scratch you can off the back of it, and move on to the next one. Perhaps more then any other genre, rom-coms are bereft of any artistic integrity. They aren't made for the sake of the story, they are made because they are simple, easily digested and utterly forgettable. They are the Chinese food of the cinema.

So, at the least, I Give It A Year can be given credit for trying to be original, for taking the standard issue formula and trying to do something new with it, trying to make it engaging rather than passive to the audience. Unfortunately, the directorial debut of Dan Mazer isn't that funny. It tries, but too often the jokes don't land, or aren't given the opportunity to land, or rely too heavily on the current go to comedy technique: cringe humour.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that would also ruin Bieber, but in an entirely different way.

The idea behind I Give It A Year (hence forth known as Year) is a good one. Rather than follow a couple as they meet, face hardships, and learn to love one another, Year focuses on what happens next. Taking place primarily over the first nine months of a marriage, the usual rom-com stuff is brushed aside during the opening credits. The meat of the story is how two people learn to live with each other, and realise that love isn't the big sweeping gestures that make up a cinema universe courting ritual, but simply learning how to tolerate another human being. It's a nice idea, a good idea. However, the movie never really commits to it. In fact, remove the marriage component from the story, and you've got exactly the same movie, just with two really stubborn people insisting on making a relationship work.

First off, the entire premise is on shaky grounds. The opening scene establishes that Nat (Rose Byrne) and Josh (Rafe Spall) have known each other for only seven months before getting married, and I have to wonder how it was that they lasted that long. If the period had been shorter, then I'd buy it. But even at seven months, all of the things they come to realise about one another would have been readily apparent while they were dating. An attempt to excuse this by saying they were - for lack of a better term - twitterpated doesn't seem to hold up, as many of the complaints the characters level at each other are obviously ones that have been festering inside them for a considerable time. But, if we ignore all that, and take the film at face value, it still leaves us lacking.

Despite featuring a married couple, nothing here is particularly revolutionary here in terms of rom-coms. It covers the same well tread scenarios that others do: the embarrassing dinner party with friends, the holidays with parents, the temptation by another. It sets itself up as something new, but inside its all just the same. Even the ending, which seems to be a humorous comment on the absurdity of romantic declarations, is just a slightly tweaked reprise of the end of every chick flick since Sleepless in Seattle. Anything original it might build towards, and there are several moments that seem to guide the film towards an original concept, are deflated by an insistent reliance on the formulaic and the mundane.

And the comedy doesn't do anything to help the story move along. I saw it in an almost completely silent theatre. Not empty, just silent. This was, I suspect, due to the film's over reliance on cringe comedy, a brand of humour that is suited for very singular tastes. But even the cringe moments aren't inspired. A game of charades turns naughty, a digital picture frame displays something it ought nought to have, a shopping trip to a lingerie store is awkward. Just because Spall sputters his lines doesn't mean that the vicarious embarrassment is carrying through the screen. And old people having sex isn't as shocking as it once was. Most of the time, it isn't outrageous, it's just dull. Mazer is best known from writing the film Borat and Bruno, films that took the concept of cringe comedy to new heights. Here, it's neutered. If he had been willing to throw caution to the wind, and really risk being offensive and outrageous, maybe that would have made up for the film's other weaknesses. As it stands, it acts like a school boy: thinking he's being extreme, but really he's just a bit rude.

What doesn't help matters is that, as bland as the comedy is and as familiar as the story is, the characters do nothing to make themselves stand out. Aside from Nat and Josh, the only other characters of note are their respective romantic rivals Guy and Chloe (Simon Baker and Anna Faris). The rest are there just as scene filler, disappearing from large chunks of the movie without incident, explanation or notice. How these characters are related or why they are in the lvies of the leads is barely ever explained, and mostly has to be surmissed. Most supporting characters aren't named, or at least aren't named until late in the film, and aren't worth remembering. Minnie Driver and Jason Flemyng are benign enough to be forgotten about between appearances, but Stephen Merchant plays without a doubt one of the most annoying and easily hated characters of the last ten years, whose role in the film I stuggle to comprehend. He shoudl have been erased during rewrites. His character wasn't funny, in the least, and was out and out despicable. His scenes went on so damned long and were lacking anything resembling appeal that they brought the movie to a dead stop. One of the better lines of the film, delivered by Bryne near the end, is levelled squarely at him, and mirrors the sentiments of this reviewer towards that character precisely.

There is some up shot. There is a very funny sequence involving Anna Faris and a threesome that everyone in my screening enjoyed, and makes one wonder why 1) more of the film wasn't that good, and b) why waste having Faris in your cast if you aren't going to give her anything more to do? Of all the nameless supporting characters, Olivia Colman (amounting to little more then a cameo) is easily the best of the bunch as a disgruntled and aggressive marriage councillor. And Bryne and Spall do have their moments, though rarely are those moments with each other. But the gains are well out weighted by the losses here, and the rest of the film leaves the viewer unsatisfied and unfulfilled. It's not the film it could have been, it's not the film it wants to be, and it's not a film worth seeing again.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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