In the grand pantheon of trashy, lazy romantic comedies, 2013’s I Give It a Year is not bad. By no means is it great or even overly memorable, but neither is it terrible. Written and directed by Boratand Bruno scribe Dan Mazer, this is a rom-com that benefits from clever plotting and a great cast, though it never quite manages to attain brilliance due to leaden pacing and lack of heart, not to mention the humour often lacks bite. I Give It a Year actually comes from the studio mills of Working Title, who were responsible for Four Weddings and a Funeral and Bridget Jones’ Diary, among others. It’s a far cry from its cinematic cousins, but I Give It a Year is nevertheless worth seeing if there’s nothing better to watch.
Striking up a whirlwind romance, Nat (Rose Byrne) and Josh (Rafe Spall) end up getting married even though their respective families and friends believe the pair to be completely unsuitable for one another. Fast-forward nine months, and the formerly happy couple are in marriage counselling with an embittered councillor (Olivia Colman). In flashback, we see key events which led to their marriage crumbling, as Nat and Josh quickly realise they have different interests. At work, Nat also meets charismatic, rich American industrialist Guy (Simon Baker), and pretends to be single in his presence. Meanwhile, Josh’s cute former flame Chloe (Anna Faris) re-enters his life and may still have feelings for him, further complicating matters.
To his credit, Mazer’s narrative is not as clear-cut and predictable as a typical American rom-com, as the ending is welcomely unconventional. You see, whereas a regular rom-com is out to convey the message that marriage can always work and opposites attract, Nat and Josh simply do not work as a couple, and the message here is that opposites pull apart. It’s a superbly refreshing angle for a rom-com to adopt, but Mazer nevertheless falls victim to various other conventions of the genre: a crude male best friend (here played by Stephen Merchant), the typical make-up scenarios, and so on. To his credit, however, Mazer does have fun with the time-honoured cliché of a last-minute dash to the train station, subverting the stereotypical scene in a clever fashion.
The problem with the whole enterprise is its distinct lack of quality belly-laughs. Unfortunately, all of the best jokes were in the trailer; the rest of the movie is middle-of-the-road, with a few guffaws here and there but nothing spectacular or memorable. Hell, some of the funniest parts of the trailer were even excised for the final cut. Mazer cut his teeth writing for Sacha Baron Cohen vehicles, hence it’s disappointing that the film isn’t funnier. This is not to say that I Give It a Year doesn’t have its charms, though – isolated scenes and moments do shine, including all of Merchant’s scenes, a hysterical moment in which Colman shrieks at her husband through the phone, and various other bits and pieces. Problem is, there’s not enough of an emotional through line, and it’s difficult to truly care about the characters and get invested in their situation. The film’s poster invites comparisons to Four Weddings and a Funeral since the films share common producers, but I Give It a Year pales in comparison to Richard Curtis’ early ’90s classic, which was witty, heartfelt and had great characters.
As for the actors, Spall and Byrne are average at best. Both of them are pleasant enough, but they lack the type of spark which characterises all the best rom-com performers. The supporting cast are the ones who steal the show here, with the aforementioned Merchant superbly playing Josh’s inappropriate, socially inept best friend, and with Colman who’s riotously funny as the unhinged marriage councillor. Faris, who’s visibly starting to age, is a good fit for Chloe, soft-spoken and meek. Rounding out the main players is Minnie Driver, and Australian actor Simon Baker, both of whom are serviceable.
Ironically, for all its attempts to subvert the romantic comedy subgenre, I Give It a Year ends up being just as ordinary and forgettable as every other average genre exercise. It’s a shame, as well, because the movie could’ve been something extraordinary if it carried the same weight, power and poignancy of something like (500) Days of Summer, which similarly uprooted rom-com clichés in an effective fashion. Instead, I Give It a Year is watchable and has its charms, but it had the potential to be superior.