On paper I Give It A Year looks like your run of the mill British romantic comedy. From Working Title, the production company that defined the genre with Four Weddings And A Funeral and Notting Hill, you’d be right to assume it’s that whole girl meets boy, finds a few obstacles in the way before a last minute dash to the airport to profess undying love. Cue the credits over a photomontage of their happy wedding after which they presumably live happily ever after. Except, I Give It A Year throws one massive spanner in the works by starting at the end.
On their big day Josh (Rafe Spall) and Nat (Rose Byrne) seem hopelessly in love as they utter their “I dos”. As the priest declares them “man and wife”, Nat’s sister Naomi (Minnie Driver) turn to husband Hugh (Jason Flemyng) and whispers “I give it a year”. Low and behold, nine months later Nat and Josh are in marriage therapy with off-the-wall counselor Linda (Olivia Colman) telling the story of how their marriage has not quite lived up to the expectations they hoped it would. As they recount their marriage thus far, it becomes clear that Josh still has feelings for his ex-girlfriend Chloe (Anna Farris) whilst Nat has become smitten by new business partner Guy (Simon Baker).
In many ways I Give It A Year is the comedy incarnation of Derek Cianfrance’s brilliant, wrist-slitting drama Blue Valentine. We witness the good times, as Nat and Josh meet, fireworks literally flying in flashback, before witnessing how their opposing personalities slowly begin to etch away at the honeymoon period. Nat’s an efficient businesswoman, someone who doesn’t like delay or silly conversations about which superpower you’d like the most. Josh, meanwhile, is more of a live in the moment kind of guy, a novelist who is happy to interrupt his wife’s work day because he’s got writers block, enjoys a bit of banter with his boorish best friend Danny (Stephen Merchant) and is generally not to be taken too seriously.
Despite its different approach to romantic comedy, I Give It A Year is still your clichéd-ridden addition to the genre. And yes, there is even a last minute dash to a transport centre. That said, it ticks all the right boxes and manages to create some fun set pieces along the way. Naomi and Hugh’s relationship is something of a highlight, a married couple so fed up with each other that their constant snipping and eye rolling is simply ignored by the other.
Given the film is written and directed by Ali G, Bruno and Borat alumnus Dan Mazer, you’d be forgiven for expecting all manner of crude jokes. Thankfully Mazer avoids them, for the most part, and instead delivers entertaining and believably flawed characters. While this is one of I Give It A Year’s strengths it also proves to be it’s biggest weakness. In demonstrating how Josh and Nat are so wrong for each other, Mazer often gives the pair character traits that are both dislikable and unforgivable. Josh is often painted as lazy, insensitive and painfully unfunny. Nat meanwhile is uptight and judgmental. By the end of the film you’re left wondering how these two ever ended up together in the first place.
The performances are, across the board, excellent. Merchant is typically irritating as Danny, making it abundantly clear why Nat is not his biggest fan. Farris does cute well enough to be juxtaposed to Nat’s more hardnosed ways. Baker uses his now trade mark smoldering good looks to solid effect making it more than understandable how Nat would be swept up by his charm. Driver and Flemyng steal every scene they’re in as a wonderfully believable and spiteful couple who despite their complaints about each other are still very much in love. Rafe Spall gives one of his most likable performances as Josh. His smile and laughter often infectious even when Josh does fall into the Hugh Grant bumbling routine of saying inappropriate things. Meanwhile Byrne manages to be both stuck-up yet adorable all at once. Her dry delivery and look of distraught embarrassment at Josh’s dancing is an all too familiar sight to anyone who’s been in a relationship more than five minutes. Of course Colman, in the film for all of five minutes, manages to continue her current trend of being the best thing about anything she appears in. Here her counselor is so hostile and angry at the world you can only assume she’s attempting reverse psychology on her patients in the hope they believe that they can’t possibly have it as bad as her.
It’s a different approach to the romantic comedy genre that doesn’t prevent I Give It A Year from falling into the same clichéd trappings. But, when you want something familiar to snuggle up with, even if parts of it do grate, I Give It A Year is like any relationship; full of highs and lows and hard not to at least enjoy the company of if maybe not love.