I get the impression that writer / director Dan Mazer, whom we already know can bring the funny (Bruno, Borat, Da Ali G Show), had a night where he did a Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill double feature, got inspired and brainstormed a film that has the best elements of both movies (sans Hugh Grant), combined with his own inimitable humor, and came up with I Give It A Year, the best comedy I’ve seen in a couple years and arguably the best romantic comedy I’ve ever seen. I find it a little surprising that Mazer, who specializes in outrageous situational humor and biting satirical wit with buddy Sacha Baron Cohen, would turn his sights to romantic comedy, which has long suffered from the staleness of formulistic orthodoxy (I used dictionary.com to come up with that phrase, by the way). That very reason is why I typically don’t do romcoms, because the genre rarely ever finds an original take on itself. And to be honest, even Mazer ends up adopting many of the genre’s intractable tenets. The thing is, he does it in a way that you end up not caring, when you see a scenario you’ve seen in a dozen other of these films, with both the aforementioned situational raucousness, dare I say charming characterization, and outright hilarious dialogue. I Give It A Year is the best Hugh Grant film that Hugh Grant isn’t in ever made.
You know those Hugh Grant scenes, where he sputters and verbally pratfalls uncomfortably thorough painful and awkward dialogue and situations? Year is littered with those. But it’s not merely the Grant protagonist that has to shoulder the burden of those, the entire cast finds themselves saddled with that problem: awkward conversations and situations. The movie moves from one scene to the next, and it’s like the scenes are trying to out-Hugh Grant the previous scene. There’s the awkward budding love scenes (two in this case), and outrageous Rhys Ifans wingman (the very funny Stephen Merchant’s Danny, looking like Merchant was given free rein to riff some great material), and even a climactic non-proposal circa Four Weddings. The ghost of Hugh Grant permeates this thing, but it’s okay, because Mazer makes it highly enjoyable to watch.
The story centers on an English newlywed couple, Josh and Nat (Rafe Spall, Rose Byrne) who proved the naysayers wrong by falling in love and getting married. But it’s not long that they find out that the old adage, “opposites attract”, may be a load of horse shite. Josh is a published, but as yet unsuccessful writer, while Nat is a professional woman, working in an advertising office. It’s there that she meets Simon Baker’s Guy, a Yankee client who owns a solvents business and is instantly attracted to Nat. Nat’s relationship with Josh is in such a state of dysfunction that Nat doesn’t entirely rebuff Guy’s advances (including a great wooing scene that involves some doves and a ceiling fan) and indeed, hides her wedding ring and never mentions Josh. On the flipside, Josh is reconnecting with old flame, Chloe, whom he let leave five years prior to do relief work in Africa. Josh’s parents annoy the hell out of Nat with their crudeness and embarrasing PDAs, while Nat’s parents outright hate Josh. A couple of disastrous family night charades scenes (one involves fingering a grandmother), don’t exactly help the situation.
All the warning signs are there that Nat and Josh’s marriage is in big trouble. So they seek the help of a marriage counselor, one who needs more counseling about her own screwed up life than they do. That’s the framework for the story, which is partially told in flashback during a session. Meanwhile, Nat’s and Josh’s temptations with Guy and Chloe are growing, and it becomes a question of whether or not their love is strong enough to fight for their marriage, especially when even their friends (Minnie Driver chief among them) think at various points that it’s a doomed proposition.
I Give It A Year benefits from an overall well-done ensemble performance, even when Stephen Merchant tries to hijack the whole thing with his funny scenes. Spall, Byrne, Baker and Faris are all attractive and sympathetic (FYI, both Byrne and Faris are both very sympathetic in lingerie). The set up for the film is familiar, it has a lot of the things you’d expect to find in a romantic comedy, like the quirky in-law relationships, the circle of friends with their own issues and bad advice and the temptations outside the marriage. But again, it’s Mazer’s deftness in overcoming that with just simply uproarious dialogue and at times brutally comical scenes that have ever such a slight Borat and Bruno-ness to them that make the film a winner. Year is actually one of the few romantic comedies to which I’ve ever thought that I could use a sequel, it’s that good. If Mazer ever does I Give It Another Year, I’ll be there. In the meantime, you should be there for this one.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars