Sunday, 24 February 2013


(Dan Mazer, 2013)

A couple of things about I Give It a Year make sense as soon as you realise that writer-director Dan Mazer is best-known as Sacha Baron-Cohen's co-writer on Ali G, Bruno and Borat. The way the laughter isn't really spread throughout the film but comes in sharp little spikes, for one thing. Mazer is great at constructing comic set-pieces that gather momentum and grow funnier as they go on; he is great, in other words, at writing sketches. And so this film is full of them; neat, almost perfectly-formed scenes based around a single, hilarious comic conceit, which the film then pushes as far as it can go. Take the scene where Chloe (Anna Faris) is involved in a threesome with two of her co-workers at a charity and it turns into a wrestling match studded with excrutiating dirty talk, brilliantly played by the actress as a piece of sustained, undignified, unsexy slapstick. Or the scene where Josh (Rafe Spall) attempts to pantomime his way through "Dr Quinn Medicine Woman" in a game of charades by referring to the word "quim" and relentlessly pointing at his mother-in-law and her mother's genitals.
Another thing is the way Mazer introduces a host of brilliant, classically British comic grotesques - generally caricatures - as fleeting supporting characters. Olivia Coleman, for instance, is dazzling as a deranged marriage counsellor. Likewise, Stephen Merchant steals every scene he's in as Josh's best friend Dan, unable to stop himself rabbiting on about anything inappropriate that enters his head.
This is all overlaid atop what is quite a generic romantic comedy setting and storyline:
in a London of cute pedestrian streets, hip bars and cool restaurants, Josh and Nat (Rose Byrne) struggle with their first year of married life, having tied the knot only seven months after meeting. Their differences seem daily more relevant and they are both tempted to stray - Josh by his girl-next-door ex Chloe, Nat by the suave Guy (Simon Baker). Their problems are only magnified by their friends and families, especially Nat's sister Naomi (Minnie Driver), happily miserable with her husband (Jason Flemyng).
Mazer dusts off a series of ancient "men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" observations about the sexes (he leaves the seat up and makes lame jokes, she gets song lyrics wrong and hates his family) and his film is curiously unbalanced. While Josh is a bit of a pratt, his side of the story involves a sympathetic, touching relationship with Chloe, genuinely the one who got away, and their mutual affection and shared sense of humour, together with warm performances from Faris and Spall, makes the audience root for them to get together. That's in sharp contrast with Nat and Guy, who are both beautiful but a little humourless, and whose relationship - played out in corporate spaces, plush hotel suites and factory floors as coldly, superficially slick and smug as their characters - is meant to be based upon a chemistry absent between the two actors.
Like most romantic comedies, the soundtrack here is full of pop songs, only in this case many of them are awful covers of songs which only make you think: Damn, I wish they'd used the original version here...
But Mazer's sensibility is sharper than that evident in the majority of films in this genre, there are some big laughs here, the cast is generally excellent, and it is all nicely paced. Mazer obviously understands the pitfalls of the romcom, and while he avoids most of them, it proves beyond him to avoid all, which is a bit of a shame.

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