Monday, April 15, 2013

I Give It a Year

For F*** Magazine, Singapore


Starring: Rafe Spall, Rose Byrne, Simon Baker, Anna Faris
Directed by: Dan Mazer

            Much as we’ve been told not to, it’s human nature to jump to conclusions. There’s just a lot of satisfaction in yelling out “called it!” when events unfold just as one has predicted. For example, it’s easy to look at a film and write it off based on its genre – and there have indeed been numerous stinkers from the chick flick bunch. Along comes I Give It a Year to stab the institution of marriage in its side.

            The film tells the story of corporate high-flyer Nat (Byrne) and struggling novelist Josh (Spall), who marry after a whirlwind seven-month-long courtship. Nat’s older sister Naomi (Minnie Driver), herself stuck in an unhappy marriage, reckons that Nat and Josh will stay married for a year at the longest – hence the title. The lead couple’s union is tested by Josh’s ex-girlfriend Chloe (Faris) and Nat’s business client Guy (Baker), both of whom seem to be better matches for Josh and Nat respectively. “If you can make it through the first year of marriage, you can make it through anything,” Josh’s father reassures him. But once they’re over that twelve month hurdle, it’s plain sailing. Right?

            I Give It a Year is writer-director Dan Mazer’s feature film directing debut. He’s best known for co-writing Ali G Indahouse, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan and BrĂ¼no with Sacha Baron Cohen – as such, one can expect a romantic comedy with a fair bit more bite. The film isn’t aiming to be a feel-good date movie, but it is aiming at the funny bone and more often than not, hits a bull’s-eye. A film about marital trials and tribulations could have easily become a little heavy, but Mazer keeps the gags flying thick and fast.

            The film seems to exist in a world where nobody has much tact, and there is a fair bit of cringe comedy in store. Comedian Stephen Merchant, as Josh’s friend Dan, starts the ball rolling with a very inappropriate best man’s speech at the wedding. The movie goes on to offer up doves flying into ceiling fans, an awkward game of charades, an inept marriage counsellor preoccupied with her anatomically-correct dolls, a look at the myriad logistical challenges of having a threesome and arguments about misheard song lyrics. Not all the jokes work, but there are just so many of them and by the end, a good amount of laughs were generated. While several of the gags are indeed pretty raunchy, they’re never over-the-top vulgar or (too) tasteless.

            The film attempts to shirk rom-com conventions by presenting audiences with a central couple whose relationship is not meant to be really compelling, and that’s a gamble that doesn’t fully pay off. Rafe Spall and Rose Byrne don’t generate a lot of chemistry and aren’t all that likeable, but then again that might be the point. That’s not to say they don’t put in good performances – Spall in particular appears to relish the chance to goof off with some drunken dancing. Once Chloe and Guy enter the scene, it becomes harder to root for Nat and Josh to stay together, which means Anna Faris and Simon Baker do their jobs. The film’s third act takes a dip into more dramatic territory, but Mazer always keep an eye on the laughs, so there are no jarring tonal shifts. The film also gets a little cluttered with supporting characters and side gags at times.

            I Give It a Year’s biggest strength is that it manages to strike a decent balance between the cynical humour, relationship drama and big comedic set-pieces. It’s definitely on the acerbic side, but the British film manages to retain a small amount of charm and while it borders on mean, it’s never alienating. Above all, it does draw out the laughs.

SUMMARY: A contemporary look at early married life dosed with the comedic stylings of Borat’s partner in crime – it works for those who have been jaded by mawkish rom-coms and could do with a little edge in their “chick flick”.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 STARS

Jedd Jong



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