With so many modern romantic comedies reaching the point of unintentional self parody, we have (thankfully) seen a niche segment emerge that aims to subvert the conventions that have plagued this once frothy and enjoyable genre. Fare like (500) Days of Summer, Celeste and Jesse Forever and Friends with Kids have seen the sins of the father and have come up with ways to please mainstream audiences but without insulting their intelligence. I Give It a Year joins these rare ranks and delivers a sometimes gut busting, always frank and enjoyably clever look at the trails and tribulations of marriage.
There are certainly times when this British-American hybrid goes too far with its crude dialogue or goofy awkward rants but writer-director Dan Mazer still clearly knows what is funny, and his time writing for Da Ali G Show has served him well in his directorial debut. Certainly the heart and soul of I Give It a Year comes with the well matched talents of its two main leads, Rose Byrne and Rafe Spall, as a newlywed couple who tied the knot after just seven months together. We often cut back to a session with a brash marriage counsellor who probably does more harm than good and also with the couple’s interactions with a former flame (Anna Farris) and a business connection (Simon Baker), who may play a larger role as things unwind. Whether they are playing off one another or interacting with the supporting cast, these two bring both the laughs and a believable depiction of a union in distress.
As can often be the case with a peek into the lives of others, especially into one not on the best of terms, awkwardness follows and so is the case with this film. Like being present as a third wheel while a couple have a spat, some scenes in I Give It a Year ring uncomfortably true. Thankfully, what this film avoids is painting either individual as the reason for the troubles – never opting to paint the wife as merely the shrill, bitchy ninny or the husband as a slovenly tool. Each have their faults, each have their positive attributes and each have the chance to be at the receiving end of an unnecessarily cruel insult or judgement. So while not likeable insofar as we’re viewing them in tough times, we are able to rationalize with these people and view them as real humans, not just as the brunt of jokes or mere players in a game of marital politics.
The laughs in Mazer’s film come from multiple facets, may it be the interplay between characters, situational humour such as a trip to a lingerie shop, or its (often vulgar) wit. The funniest scene (and one of the best of the year) involves a visit from the in-laws and a digital picture screen. Needless to say, the way that Spall plays the situation is absolutely perfect and had me reduced to a cackling idiot. Buying into the often sarcastic and overly clever dialogue will come down to the viewer, but for the most part it won me over, in large due to how the cast deliver the lines and react in turn.
I Give It a Year also concludes in a perfect way and one that stays true to the same awkward, sardonic tone that the rest of the film adopts. To say it slaps in the face every film that wraps up with someone literally running to the airport last minute to proclaim their eternal love would be an understatement. A closer approximation would be that it puts those offerings in a sleeper hold and squeezes out every ounce of maddening cliché. It’s satisfying, funny and refreshingly direct. This act is preceded by what is also one of the best “reunion” speeches I’ve ever heard. I won’t spoil anything as to how it unfurls but it too is cooling in its candidness.
While unfortunately not quite parody and maybe never quite as clever as it intends, I Give It a Year is still rife with mirth and deftly understands elements of marriage, relationships and most importantly, the irritating formula of the rom-com. Earning its R-rating and showing unequivocally that Byrne, Spall, Farris and Baker are the things of leading men and women, this often uncomfortable but ultimately earnest feature is fun from beginning to end – something, as this film reminds us, is nothing at all like marriage.