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It’s always uncomfortable to watch married people fight. In a perfect world they would be the happiest among us, as they’ve found someone to love and cherish for as long as they both shall live – a pretty damn good thing. But then reality kicks in with the fact that just because people share a pair of rings doesn’t make them dreamily happy. This is the driving idea behind I Give It A Year, a new kind of romantic comedy that delves into the idea that just because a couple decides get married doesn’t mean they should necessarily be together.
The feature directorial debut of Dan Mazer, who also wrote the script, the story follows the relationship of Josh (Rafe Spall) and Nat (Rose Byrne), who decide to get married despite nothing but protest from their friends and family. Following the ceremony their relationship almost immediately starts to show cracks, as the two snipe at each other about misheard song lyrics and taking out the trash, but their issues are only exacerbated by a handsome new client at Nat’s office named Guy (Simon Baker), and Josh’s best friend and former girlfriend Chloe (Anna Faris).
A great deal of credit must be given to the film’s casting, as Spall and Byrne have something together that most romantic comedies dread: anti-chemistry. A real credit to the performances, the two actors never actually click – even during the wedding – and while it’s not totally unbelievable that the two found each other in the first place, one of the most surprising and clever bits about the movie is that the audience immediately recognizes that these are two people that should not be bound in holy matrimony. On the flip side of that, both Spall and Faris and Byrne and Baker are terrific as pairs and make infinitely more sense as couples, which only makes the genre subversion that much stronger and funnier.
Great as the leads are, however, it’s the supporting actors who deliver the film’s greatest laughs. As Nat’s sister and brother-in-law, a long-married couple who seem to hate each other’s guts, both Minnie Driver and Jason Flemyng bring a hysterically uber-negative energy to every scene they’re in, while Stephen Merchant, as one of Josh’s closest friends and Best Man, delivers two of the most awkward, horrifying toasts you’ll ever here. Most importantly, Mazer recognizes the strength of these elements and uses them just sparingly enough to have the greatest impact.
The film does make some unfortunate choices, the most notable being the structure. Most of the film plays out linearly, however, there are regular flash-forwards to the ninth month of Josh and Nat’s marriage and their meetings with a counselor, played by Olivia Colman. The scenes are used as a framing device, allowing the couple to recount the issues they’ve been having in order to introduce new settings and situations, but really only serve to reveal the machinations of the script. Ultimately, it feels as though Mazer didn’t have enough trust in the structural integrity of the linear narrative – which he should have – and the movie is weakened as a result.
Not all of I Give It A Year works, and there are more than a few scenes and jokes that fall awkwardly flat, but when it does work there’s a significant risk of movie-goers falling out of their chairs.
For more of our SXSW 2013 coverage, click HERE.