Opening with a montage depicting Nat (Rose Byrne) and Josh’s (Rafe Spall) whirlwind romance that climaxes on their wedding day, “I Give It A Year” is the phrase uttered in the aisles by Nat’s sister (Minnie Driver) which gives this let-down its title. It is overtly clear that Nat, a shallow, career-driven bore, and Josh, a slobbish lad and struggling writer, were doomed from the moment Josh’s obnoxious best friend (Stephen Merchant) sidles into wedding proceedings with an untimely dance number and the best man speech from hell. From thereon, I Give It A Year treads the beaten path of the romantic comedy formula except (TWIST!) the story follows their journey to divorce rather than cathartic smooch [in the rain/on a train platform/in the departure lounge].
Working Title Films are a production company famed for defining the British ‘rom-com’ through their relationship with Richard Curtis. The unbridled success of Four Weddings and Funeral, Notting Hill, and Love, Actually catapulted Hugh Grant into super-stardom and forever gave hope to mumbling fools that they could pass off their social ineptitude as kitsch British charm. Surprisingly, given their track record, Working Title’s latest picture, I Give It A Year, offers an antidote to the tyranny of the rom-com with an unlikely bedfellow in Dan Mazer (Ali G, Borat, Bruno) being given free reign to make an attempt at subverting the well-trodden genre. Unfortunately, the lasting impression left by I Give It A Year is that the only thing worse than a formulaic rom-com is a formulaic anti-rom-com.
There are a plethora of problems with I Give It A Year. For a film trying to throw shade on rom-coms, it, bizarrely, ticks all the boxes of the formula admonished by Mazer with the pretence that it is somehow better than the films it pokes fun at. It feels as if I Give It A Year is expecting a pardon from its audience because it makes self-aware nods and winks to the camera about the constraints of the genre but, ultimately, it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. In the second act, the story splinters as Nat and Josh are conflicted by love interests which threaten their already broken marriage. Nat is pursued relentlessly by the teeth-gratingly suave Guy (Simon Baker), a business contact who makes it clear that he simply must have her, whilst Josh is re-awakened to the existence of his ex-girlfriend Chloe (Anna Faris), a selfless Earth mother type.
From this point the film plays out like a standard rom-com with the added complication that the focal characters are already in a relationship. The problem this poses, a problem which fundamentally undermines the whole film, is that it is not a particularly endearing proposition to see romance unfold through estrangement and deceit.
There is a lot to be said about the farce behind trying to make characters ‘more likeable’ to an audience but if there were ever a justification for creative meddling then I Give It A Year would be exhibit A. With the exception of the demure Chloe, whom Anna Faris is clearly miscast for, each character is reprehensibly awful and no amount of wise-cracking and in-jokes can save the film from being a disappointment.
Mazer’s rebellion against the genre is a fun concept but it is one that hasn’t translated well onto the screen as flipping the tropes of romantic comedy is, basically, the equivalent of being trapped with an arguing couple falling out of love for and an hour and a half. Despite a few truly funny flashes, the cathartic set-pieces fall some way short of a pay-off that is satisfying. Working Title Films have been unfaithful to the formula that they helped redefine but hopefully Richard Curtis can forgive them for straying with this one.
I Give It A Year is released in the UK on Fri Feb 8th