I Give It a Year sets out to be an anti-romantic comedy, but ends up being merely a bad romantic comedy. The latest from Working Title continues a decline that began just after Four Weddings and a Funeral. Writer and director Dan Mazer is known primarily for his collaborations with Sacha Baron Cohen, Bruno and Borat. So the jokes are darker, with way more paedo gags and inadvertent racism than Richard Curtis could ever muster. And look, don’t get me wrong, some moments are even funny. The set pieces with Tim Key and Stephen Merchant made me laugh out loud. It’s more that the whole structure of the piece is flawed.
In a reversal of the Curtis model I Give It a Year begins with account director, Nat and novelist, Josh tying the knot. The rest of the film shows them untying it. It’s not so much that the cracks are beginning to show at the outset, it’s more that the wedding takes place over the yawning chasm of the title. There’s never any doubt whether Nat and Josh are going to split up. They’re hopelessly mismatched as is clear not just to us and all the other characters in the film, but even to them. And this is a problem, because where as we could identify with Hugh Grant’s bumbling chronic bachelor, doing his best in the face of his own weakness – we can’t ever see these two as anything but hopelessly misguided, stupid even. And this divests the story of both sympathy and suspense.
What we see instead are two adults behaving in a childishly unboundaried way toward people they really should, and probably would, be more careful around – in Josh’s case an ex-girlfriend, Chloe (Anna Faris), and in Nat’s a dashing playboy client, Guy (Simon Baker) – with results predictable to anyone over the age of eight.
Didn’t someone say that good comedy tells the truth? The best of Judd Apatow’s films do this by marrying a world-weary outlook with the wisdom of mutual acceptance. I Give It a Year tries to offer something similar in the relationship between Nat’s sister (nicely played by Minnie Driver – still smoking hot if you were wondering) and her husband (Jason Flemyng), but the earnest moments, when they come, seem only jarring. That’s before we get to the complete suspension of realism around facts of the character’s lives.
How do they have a beautifully art directed flat in Maida Vale when she’s an advertising account director (salary: £75K tops) and he’s a first time novelist (salary: approximately fuck all). Why is Guy living in a hotel when his main industrial plant is in Greenwich? And how are we meant to believe that Rafe Spall, who has the dull eyes of a second generation actor, could actually write a novel?
The film’s climax seems desperately contrived. You can tell the director has tried to up the ante by lathering on the soundtrack, but by this stage it’s much too late. We just don’t care. Despite a laboured nod to the Hugh-Grant-in-the-rain scene the thing it most resembles in its final moments isn’t Four Weddings, but a below-par VW advert.