For most of its running time, I Give It a Year gives the impression of being a romantic comedy. The directorial debut of Borat co-creator Dan Mazer, the film follows Nat (Rose Byrne) and Josh (Rafe Spall), an attractive, youngish couple who have rushed into marriage. As they get to know each other and attempt to dispel the misgivings of their quirky friends, co-workers and relations, their lives are complicated by the introduction of potential love interests – an ex-girlfriend and a dashing new work colleague.
There’s little that appears to be uncommon or noteworthy about this scenario, and yet by its conclusion I Give It a Year proves itself to be surprisingly subversive. The film traces the same pattern as other romantic comedies, but its pessimistic nature means that during a few key moments it zags where similar films would zig.
In part, the film’s iconoclasm is a result of its scepticism, which refuses to relent at any point. Negativity in comedy isn’t unusual, but I Give It a Year stands out by never abandoning its uncompromising view of its characters and relationships in general. Where its contemporaries suffer whiplash as they ditch bitterness for a formulaic, heart-warming finale, I Give It a Year is marinated in cynicism, avoiding cheap sentiment throughout.
There’s an admirable, if bracing purity to the approach. Nat and Josh come across like real people, in that while they’re funny and capable of warmth, they’re also frequently unlikeable, making poor decisions out of insecurity, selfishness or spite.
Mazer avoids the temptation to make his leads blandly good or comically horrible, or to give them an unconvincing third-act redemption, but he also has little interest in finding the humanity in their imperfection and fumbling. You shouldn’t have to root for the characters to stay together for a year, but you should at least care about what happens to them.
Occasionally the suspicion arises that Mazer doesn’t like his characters at all, which makes them difficult to empathise with. This is especially true with the supporting cast, where many of the roles – while comically excellent – are one-note and mean-spirited: Stephen Merchant is reduced once again to repeating his Darren Lamb character from Extras, and Minnie Driver is stuck with a thankless role as Nat’s bitter, joyless sister.
I Give It a Year has interesting points to make about modern relationships and the pressures incompatible people feel to make them work, but its argument is sometimes obscured by coldness. While it’s refreshing to find a film so unwilling to bend to formula, its cynicism is ultimately dispiriting, despite it being very funny throughout. Mazer should be commended for some of the bold choices he makes, but he might have been able to retain them without the aftertaste.
Originally published on Oh Comely’s website.