i-give-it-a-year-poster09Dan Mazer (the writer of Borat and Bruno) makes his directorial debut with a bawdy and irreverent romantic comedy, I Give It A Year, packing this sharply observant insight into the realities of a young marriage with plenty of hilariously awkward sketches. The characters are likable, with Rafe Spall’s bumbling klutz the most idiotic but endearing of them all, the writing is genuinely funny and Mazer even attempts to subvert the genre while aware of adhering to the most obnoxious of tropes. Sparks fly between Nat (Rose Byrne), an ambitious PR, and Josh (Spall), a housebound novelist working on his sophomore piece, after meeting at a party. Much to the shock of their family and friends, who have already spotted the mismatch, they are married within the year. Everyone fears the worst, questioning whether they will survive their differences and make it through the notoriously tumultuous first year of married life. Suffering from writer’s block and cabin fever, Josh reunites with ex-girlfriend Chloe (Anna Faris), who left their relationship for a multi-year international humanitarian  venture, and Nat finds herself removing her wedding ring for the purposes of flirting with a handsome, high-profile American client, Guy (Simon Baker), only to find reciprocated fascination. These attractive alternatives result in the couple’s trials and tribulations, forcing them to consider the life-changing decision.

What is key to the film’s success is the casting, and the maturity of Spall is evident (his strong work in One Day and Anonymous showed promise, but he was soon relegated to sideline roles in blockbuster hits Prometheus and Life of Pi). He has cut the figure and proven himself a capable comedic lead, indulging in the well-meaning but self-deprecating buffoon style of humour familiar in esteemed veterans like Woody Allen, Larry David and Ricky Gervais. Byrne and Faris have shown repeatedly they have comedy chops, with Faris an especially pleasant detour from the norm. Simon Baker just needs to charismatic ‘twinkle’ for his performance to work.

What I liked about I Give It A Year was that it balanced its very serviceable dose of smut with wit – there are some terrific one-liners, with The Office co-creator Stephen Merchant outrageously inappropriate in every scene he’s in.

Rather than mould the characters into fake individuals, Mazer and his cast have created layered characters that feel genuine. Even when Josh is being immature and inappropriate, Nat accepts him for who he is. Josh knows that Nat is organized and ambitious, and he tries to conform to her mode of living. He’s a caring and sensitive person beneath the silliness, and Chloe recognises this even if Nat doesn’t. Nat is incredibly smart and likely to be a very successful woman, and if Josh doesn’t recognize it, Guy is there to tell her so.There are a few convenient accumulations of unlikely characters that aid the progression of the narrative, and a few of the gags (a weird threesomes involving Faris’ character, for one) run on too long. Olivia Colman’s incompetent marriage counselor lays it on a bit thick, and it is impossible to overlook the film’s predictability. In Mazer’s defence I am convinced that he is taking the piss on this level (having the characters running through a train station to rescue a soon-to-be-lost love is textbook stuff), but if you don’t have any interest in romantic comedies – as funny as this one is – there are whiffs of the genre everywhere. It is certainly more successful with the comedy than the romance, which is absolutely fine, especially when the laughs are this consistent. Like most romantic comedies these days, some drama is introduced in the second half to accompany the breakdown of the relationship, but the gags continue to run in-tune with these developments. One involving a photomontage of the couple’s honeymoon is especially brilliant. I Give It A Year is a romantic comedy, and it is funny. How rare is that? Whether it becomes a new British comedy classic remains to be seen, but it is certainly cause for a good time.

[rating=3] and a half

Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22