I GIVE IT A YEAR. Starring Rose Byrne, Rafe Spall, Simon Baker, Stephen Merchant, Anna Faris, and Minnie Driver. Directed by Dan Mazer. Rated M (Nudity, coarse language and sexual references). 97 min.
This is a British romantic comedy about a couple of newly-weds in their first year of marriage. It takes a close, comic look at their trials and tribulations. The movie shows the newly-weds in counselling, and travels back to their wedding day, which was deliriously happy.
A highly strung professional woman, Nat (Rose Byrne), marries a struggling, aspiring writer, Josh (Rafe Spall), after a whirlwind romance. Josh describes their relationship, rather awkwardly on their wedding-day as, “he is a thinker, and she is a doer”. The question that keeps coming back to the couple as the months go by stems from doubts they have about their suitability to each other. Nat’s sister (Minnie Driver) and Josh’s best friend (Stephen Merchant) both think the marriage was a disaster.
Helping to fan the doubts further is the temptation to Nat from her good-looking client (Simon Baker), and to Josh from his ex-girl friend (Anna Faris). The temptations to both are serious, and they coincide for Nat and Josh with the first anniversary of their marriage. Neither Nat nor Josh wants to be the first to give up.
This is a smart comedy with an acerbic, punchy script that exposes wittily the pitfalls of fast romancing. The movie is a smorgasbord of vignettes, in which a series of comedy situations are threaded throughout the movie to provide the film’s comic moments. Some are laugh-aloud funny, such as Merchant’s best-man speech at Josh’s wedding, Josh’s miming with a billiard cue, but most stem from personal predicaments reinforced by witty dialogue. For example, the couple’s solicitor, who is depressed, is not sure what to do if the couple he is representing go into a long-term coma after their marriage is over, and so he asks outrageous questions such as how would they behave if the other was in a “persistent vegetative state”, or “paralysed but you can still wink”. Their marital counsellor also has serious marital problems herself.
There are some wonderful comic moments particularly from Josh’s acid-tongued best friend, who makes outrageous remarks that shock everyone, but Merchant is particularly skilled in his comedy timing. He reliably looks as if he is mistiming all his remarks, but they always target some truth. Nat’s sister is ever-ready to complain about her own marriage frustrations and relationship difficulties, but she stays with her husband despite them; and the parents of Nat and Josh are embarrassed constantly by the behaviour of those around them, but their relationship has endured.
There are things that are familiar about this comedy, which is not surprising because Rose Byrne was a lead player in the American comedy, “Bridesmaids” (2011). Despite at times the feeling of déjà vu, the movie has an engagingly fresh look, as it moves to its predictable conclusion. The moral messages of the film are not edifying. Nat and Josh, part without a great deal of trying, and they form new relationships that are not developed in a way that makes good dramatic sense. However, the film’s script is sharp and snappy, and the situational comedy occasionally goes deliciously all-out, as it does when Nat and her client sit down to dinner with white doves flying all around them, trying to avoid being hit by a ceiling fan.
Underneath the humour, lurks an interesting character study of both Nat and Josh, but the movie fails to deliver an intensive analysis of their marriage, or recovery from their relationship breakdown. This is a movie that doesn’t pursue the frustrations of the conflicts of marriage as far as it might, and it comes to grips superficially with the moral dilemmas that lie behind why marital relationships break down, or fail to endure. But despite these misgivings, and an ending that fails to impress, this is a sharp, snappy comedy that has some excellent comic moments, and wonderful dialogue.
The film fortunately doesn’t try to match the crudity of “Bridesmaids”, and it demonstrates enjoyably the work of a group of talented comedians.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Out February 28th 2013.