I Give It A Year
Rafe Spall spent his time in Ang Lee’s film version of "Life of Pi" looking doe-eyed and slightly flummoxed. He had a forgettable part in "Prometheus," and played William Shakespeare in the ludicrous "Anonymous."
With "I Give It A Year," Spall retreats to comedy of a more deliberate sort. The project, by writer-director Dan Mazer, introduces us to Spall’s character, Josh, and to Nat (Rose Byrne) at the moment they meet. It’s textbook romance: Their eyes lock, and fireworks explode in the sky behind Nat. A quick montage shows us their furious whirl of courtship, and then drops us into the thick of their wedding, complete with one character’s optimistic, but laughable, comparison of the event to a Hugh Grant movie.
There are overt attempts in this direction, but they are soggy and lifeless. The best man is a cretin and a creep; his wedding toast is pure agony to sit through (and not just for the dinner guests). This could be a deliberate, if Pyrrhic, gesture on Mazer’s part, but only if he truly understands how awful, how tedious, how grating and how enervating his film is.
After all, once the initial glow has worn off, Josh and Nat discover what everyone else already knows -- they are entirely wrong for each other. Needless to say, their life together is, like this depiction, awful, tedious, grating and enervating.
Though Josh seems too clueless and self-absorbed to realize it, his ex-girlfriend, an expatriate American named Chloe (Anna Faris), is a much better mate for him. Nat, meantime, finds herself responding to an American client who has fallen, inexplicably and incurable, in love with her. This fellow is named (with a degree of bluntness that characterizes this film overall) Guy, and he’s played by Simon Baker, also a native of Australia.
There’s a similar film out there, the much superior and much less crass "Drinking Buddies," which contemplates a similar situation. Its style, approach and conclusions are completely different; more to the point, it’s an emotionally complex, effectual movie, whereas "I Give It A Year" will leave you regretting that fact that you gave it an hour and a half. (IF you sit all the way through it. I had to, since I was reviewing it, but you, if you go, need not feel so obligated.)
The film looks good, with Ben Davis doing the cinematography. The narrative structure is sound, also. If this were a house, it would be solidly constructed, although unmistakably cookie-cutter in configuration; it would also be decorated in an unholy mix of used furniture and garish paint schemes.
Other stylistic flaws abound, including an unnecessary narrative device that finds the couple in a counselor’s office nine months in; between flashbacks, we’re treated to the unlovely sight of the counselor dealing with them in an increasingly vulgar manner (a staple in this movie; evidently, no one, including priests and lawyers, has any clue about how to conduct themselves professionally) and, at one point, erupting into an ugly argument with someone (presumably her own spouse) via cell phone.
None of this is amusing in the least. (Even the counselor’s enraged rant comes across as shrill and embarrassing, a chore to have to observe; Kirstie Alley did much the same thing so much better in Woody Allen’s 1997 film "Deconstructing Harry").
The movie’s cornerstone set piece is a holiday visit with Nat’s uptight parents, in which a digital photo display, having carelessly been loaded with a sprinkling of sexually intimate snaps. This is the one scene that anyone who sees the film is likely to remember (other attempts at riotous comedy, such as a threesome gone wrong and a fumbling visit to a sexy lingerie shop, fall utterly flat), less for its humor (there is a little, but nothing we haven’t seen before) than for its humiliation factor. (Then again humiliation, especially of the sexual sort, is the new one-liner, so maybe that’s a distinction without a difference.)
It’s a shame that the script is so dire, with every line of dialogue feeling forced and every gag feeling watered down and warmed over. There’s actually a worthwhile thought buried in this mess: Sometimes, when you love somebody...but you’re not in love with them...the most caring thing to do is to ask for his hand in, well, divorce.