Friday, September 6, 2013

I Give This Movie About Ten Minutes

Rafe Spall as Josh and Rose Byrne as Nat in Dan Mazer's romantic comedy "I Give It A Year".  Magnolia Pictures


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Friday, September 6, 2013

Dan Mazer writes and directs "I Give It A Year", a British romantic comedy whose opening ten minutes are full of humor, incorrectness and innuendo, mostly supplied by English comedian Stephen Merchant.  After that, the film, which stars Rose Byrne ("Bridesmaids") and Rafe Spall (on Broadway next month in Harold Pinter's classic play "Betrayal"), as a nine months-married couple in crisis, is a predictable series of clichés which eventually get exploded, becoming cliché in their own right.

A wedding is all about the bride.  A marriage is all about the relationship between a wife and husband.  In the latter there's no daily ceremony.  Except perhaps -- if you listen to the cynical malcontents of Mr. Mazer's film -- you celebrate the end of each day having not throttled your spouse to death. 

With this in mind, Nat (Ms. Byrne) is a London sales executive whose marriage to writer Josh (Mr. Spall) is at a standstill.  Their counselor (Olivia Colman), like Jane Lynch's shrink character in the current "Afternoon Delight" and many real shrinks, has her own issues.  The couple's issues are illustrative of the mundane but nagging things some marital arguments consist of: toilet seats staying in the upright position;  wrong words being sung to songs on the radio.  Much of "I Give It A Year" chronicles the couple's counseling session.  The remainder intersperses it with flashbacks leading to where Nat and Josh are now.   

Two "Yanks" -- one who really is, Anna Faris, and one who really isn't, Simon Baker* -- come into Nat and Josh's lives.  Ms. Faris, a hugely underrated actress, is Josh's ex-girlfriend Chloe, whose flame still flickers.  Mr. Baker is Guy, aka the guy waiting to be a knight in shining armor in a romantic comedy.  Guy is a lonely business magnate looking for love.  Chloe spends her time pining for the indifferent, dependent and immature Josh.  He can't say the word "panty" without getting embarrassed.  Aren't there any other men for Chloe in London?

Meanwhile, Nat removes her wedding ring in the hopes of getting for her company "the account" Guy's business offers, yet Mr. Mazer writes Nat shallow, as a woman who somehow can't resist mixing business with pleasure.  The equally shallow Guy wants pleasure but it's a pursuit motivated by a desire for meaningful sex, which he's probably isolated from as a magnate.  Mr. Baker isn't isolated from this type of role, which he's played before ("The Devil Wears Prada".)  Nat's female office mates are sunny companions to Mr. Merchant's quips and a counter to Ms. Driver and Ms. Colman's acerbic ways, though Ms. Colman is funny.  Except when her character repeatedly jabs at the imaginary vagina of a teddy bear or doll with a pen in one scene. 

The contrived, plastic "I Give It A Year" uses sugar, spice and tenderness and throws fairy tale pixie dust all over itself by the end, which arrives too late to alter what has preceded it thanks to its collection of self-interested souls.  I believe Mr. Mazer sincerely wanted to invigorate the genre.  Yet I think the filmmaker was lampooning romantic comedies and the character types who populate them.  The problem is, if Mr. Mazer really was lampooning, the joke falls flat and eventually, on him and his film.  The film's initial laughs, fun and sharpness very soon turns into dull, repetitive spin cycle: rinse, wash, repeat.

Sprinkled with "anger comedy", sarcasm and bitterness (both voiced mainly by Minnie Driver), sex jokes and gags you've seen in better films, "I Give It A Year" has the kind of bawdiness that should be awkwardly re-spelled "borediness".  What's worse, nearly all the characters (with the exception of Mr. Merchant's) are quite foolish as characters, not for the sake of comedy but for the sake of rationality.  They simply aren't smart as movie characters.  Smart people do silly things in comedies but the people here are unconvincing in their silliness. 

Even with the premise that love, relationships and humans are complicated you might wonder how what you see in "I Give It A Year" stayed in the final script.  The actors are there.  The imagination of the filmmaker isn't.  The material for Ms. Colman, Mr. Spall, Ms. Faris, Ms. Driver, Ms. Byrne and Mr. Baker, all very capable performers, lets them down.  They look trapped. 

Only Mr. Merchant enlivens matters, and he stays on the outer edges of a film which feels longer than its 90-plus minute running time.  In that same space of time or longer you'd be better served watching any of the romantic comedies "Four Weddings And A Funeral", "Love Actually" (which will remain timeless 30 years from now), and "Something New", which Mr. Baker starred in.  There are others, like "Love Jones", that are also worth a look.  Mike Figgis's "One Night Stand", not a comedy, while not perfect, is a better, more honest rendition of this exact film.  At least Mr. Figgis has a serious, well-intentioned look at married couples.

In "I Give It A Year", there's no seven-year itch, seven-month scratch or ten-minute "quickie".  The aforementioned duration of that latter sexual item, and in some ways any originality in the film itself, doesn't exist.

(*Note/correction: Simon Baker is actually a dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia, and has been for several years.)

Also with: Jason Flemyng, Jane Asher, Terence Harvey, Claire Higgins, Nigel Planer.

"I Give It A Year" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for sexual content, language and some graphic nudity.  The film's running time is one hour and 37 minutes.  The film opened today in San Francisco, San Jose, Delaware and Vermont.

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