A bit lovey-dovey
I Give It a Year was written and directed by Dan Mazer, an expert in foot-in-mouth humour. How could he not be? He collaborated with Sacha Baron Cohen on Borat, Bruno and Da Ali G Show.
Now he's creating mayhem in a new genre – the romantic comedy. The film's opening montage of happy moments climaxes with a wedding, upon which things rapidly slide into doubt and confusion. A coughing fit almost chokes the vicar before he can pronounce the couple man and wife. Then comes the reception with a full menu of cringe-worthy speeches. The heavy thud of their faux pas has barely faded when the groom is lured into performing an excruciating rap number with lyrics arranged around the words ''bitches'' and ''hos''.
The initiator is pop-eyed British comic Stephen Merchant, someone else who's well versed in the art of inappropriateness. He first became notorious as Ricky Gervais's confederate in the TV series Extras, and here he's the groom's best man and the bride's worst nightmare.
Josh, the groom (Rafe Spall), is a writer struggling with his second novel while his wife, Nat (Rose Byrne), is supposed to be a highly organised account executive in an advertising agency, although her management skills aren't exactly highlighted. We tend to look in on her when her working hours are being eroded by the increasingly rackety nature of her personal life. But she does earn enough to keep her and Josh in what looks to be a mansion flat in Knightsbridge.
There are many impediments to their hopes for marital bliss. Her snooty parents can't stand him, his happy-go-lucky parents irritate her. Her forthright sister (Minnie Driver) has given the marriage a year. Not that her own is in great shape. The zestiness of the bickering that she enjoys with her husband (Jason Flemyng) is the only thing that keeps their union alive.
Marriage gets bad press all round. Even the counsellor (Olivia Colman) the couple resort to in the film's first 15 minutes has had enough, judging from the explosive telephone conversation that punctuates their session with her. It's one of many scenes that play like comedy sketches hastily stitched into the fabric of the plot, but there is a narrative of sorts.
It picks up the pace with the arrival of Simon Baker. He is Nat's new client, Guy, a wealthy American businessman whose poise, drive and suave good looks would make Josh's jokes and dance moves seem even clunkier, should such a thing be possible.
Josh, however, doesn't care nearly as much as he ought to. He has reconnected with his former girlfriend Chloe, played by American comic Anna Faris, who can also be seen in the coprophilia segment in Movie 43, if you're interested. She's often to be found playing dumb and not so dumb blondes, but here the blonde has been toned down to mousey brown in line with her dun-coloured wardrobe of droopy garments. As an aid worker newly returned from Africa, she's not into fashion, as various characters keep tactfully reminding her. But these gratuitous barbs are not nearly as humiliating as the scene that has her gamely battling on as the odd one out in a threesome after her new boyfriend invites the office sexpot into bed with them.
The film's most novel feature lies in the fact that it subverts the usual relationship between British and Australian stereotypes. Its buffoons are Brits, while two Aussies, Baker and Byrne, are cast as its sophisticates. Admittedly, they're not playing Australian. And they're not all that sophisticated. He, for example, hits on the daft idea of wooing her with a violinist and a pair of white doves, a scene that swiftly degenerates into a pastiche of The Birds.
Byrne was offered the role after Mazer saw her straight-faced turn as the bitch in Bridesmaids, and she again does well as a comic foil. In fact, she does so well with her deadpan put-downs and looks of open-mouthed wonder that she's ready to perpetrate her own line in gaffes and gags instead of merely taking care of the reaction shots.
Spall is less impressive. You need Hugh Grant's timing to bring off the kind of silliness to which he has been assigned and he just hasn't got it. Nor can he manage the segues between silliness and sincerity that he needs to negotiate if we're to barrack for him no matter what. As a romantic, he comes across as a self-centred prat.
Mazer's own timing is sharper. At least it is sometimes. It looks as if he's trying for a combination of Richard Curtis and Judd Apatow, spiced with a mild form of the bawdiness that he has been serving up with Sacha Baron Cohen. There are wild fluctuations in tone, and you can never escape the thought he's more interested in the gag than the character delivering it. It's all good fun but it isn't great comedy.
I GIVE IT A YEAR
Directed by Dan Mazer
Rated M, 102 minutes