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Dustin Putman

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I Give It a Year  (2013)
3 Stars
Directed by Dan Mazer.
Cast: Rose Byrne, Rafe Spall, Anna Faris, Simon Baker, Minnie Driver, Jason Flemyng, Stephen Merchant, Olivia Colman, Jane Asher, Terence Harvey, Nigel Planer, Clare Higgins, Alisha Bailey, Kerry Howard, Daisy Haggard, Joseph Millson.
2013 – 97 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for sexual content, language and nudity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, July 8, 2013.
Easily one of this year's freshest, most original romantic comedies not featuring zombies—that would be Jonathan Levine's "Warm Bodies"—"I Give It a Year" tweaks, juggles, and altogether subverts genre expectations as debuting director Dan Mazer (screenwriter of 2006's "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" and 2009's "Bruno") guides his audience through the first tumultuous year in the lives of newlywed couple Nat (Rose Byrne) and Josh (Rafe Spall). As joyous, cutesy and montage-ready as their relationship is prior to the marriage, scored, no less, to Jessie Ware's cover of Stephanie Mills' "Never Knew Love Like This Before," it just as quickly starts to unravel once they return from their honeymoon. For anyone groomed on conventions, it might be natural to expect that the rest of the film will be about these two people learning to live with their differences, their love winning out over all else, but Mazer has more than a couple tricks up his sleeve on his way to a happy ending. Splendidly pert dialogue, laugh-out-loud situations, and an ensemble of ready and willing performers combine to ultimately give "I Give It a Year" the volt of electricity it needs to keep from becoming familiar and obvious.

Modern-day London urbanites Nat and Josh are eager to start their lives together, but shortly after their wedding it becomes clear that they are very different people. The hard-working Nat is career-oriented, holding down a stable job at a marketing firm, while Josh mostly loafs around their apartment, stuck with a case of writer's block as he tries to pen his second novel. By the nine-month mark, they are in therapy with offbeat marriage counselor Linda (Olivia Colman) while each of them secretly tries to shove aside the feelings they have for others—she with suave colleague Guy (Simon Baker) and he with his ex-girlfriend, earnest charity worker Chloe (Anna Faris). So-called "wedded bliss" might not be all it's cracked up to be, but if two people care enough about each other, they can make it work and live a long, happy life together. As much as they snip back and forth, that's precisely what Nat's self-deprecating sister, Naomi (Minnie Driver), and brother-in-law, Hugh (Jason Flemyng), have. The question remains, however, whether Nat and Josh are truly right as a couple.

"I Give It a Year" is being made available to see as a Video-On-Demand title one month prior to its limited theatrical run, but there is no reason this particular film couldn't open as a wide release on two thousand screens. It's frequently broad yet always human (it's rare that more than a minute or two pass without it earning a good-sized chuckle), the pacing is energetic, it stars a mostly familiar cast of the commercial variety, and fans of romantic comedies of the "Love, Actually," "Notting Hill," and "Bridget Jones's Diary" ilk will be in heaven. Is the picture's small release due to its British setting, despite half of the central four characters being American? Or is it simply lacking that one mega-star—a Hugh Grant, perhaps, or a Julia Roberts—to lift it above the treatment of a common indie movie? Whatever the case, "I Give It a Year" deserves an audience that will sit up and take notice of how smartly writer-director Dan Mazer has tackled this project, finding hope and comfort just as much in the realization that a pair aren't soul mates as in those that genuinely are. It's a clever, honest conceit, and one that is handled with grace, humor, and just a little bittersweetness.

In films as varied as 2004's "Wicker Park," 2007's "Sunshine," 2009's "Knowing," and 2011's "Insidious," Rose Byrne has cemented her dramatic abilities as an actress so convincingly, it would be understandable to doubt, or fail to even think about, her propensity for comedy. Holding her own against Russell Brand in 2010's "Get Him to the Greek" and Kristen Wiig in 2011's "Bridesmaids," Byrne has toppled over all barriers that have seen her typecast in the past in strictly serious roles. The truth is, she can do both equally as well, and, when given the chance, can be uproariously funny one moment and just as poignant the next. Byrne gets to do both with Nat, her portrayal of a woman with serious doubts about the man she has married ringing true without the character ever becoming harpy or overbearing. As husband Josh, Rafe Spall (2012's "Life of Pi") matches (or should it be mismatches?) her well as an affable guy whose easygoing pursuits and unpredictable behavior spark conflict. While holding on to the hope that things will get better for himself and Nat, he is reminded of the special bond he once had with Chloe (the two broke up when she went on a work trip to Africa) and tries to retain a close friendship with her.

For Chloe, being around Josh turns into yet another reminder of what she no longer has. Anna Faris (2012's "The Dictator") is consistently wonderful in everything, and so she is again here, ensuring that Chloe is an intelligent, vivacious, lovable presence who, at 33, has begun to wonder if she'll ever meet Mr. Right. A scene in which Faris finds herself in bed with two virtual strangers has to win some kind of award for all-time best onscreen three-way. It's screamingly funny. In memorable supporting turns, Stephen Merchant (2013's "Movie 43") is a genius with a non-stop stream of one-liners as Josh's cheerfully obnoxious friend Danny; Minnie Driver (2010's "Conviction") and Jason Flemyng (2011's "X-Men: First Class") color up their scenes as Nat's tell-it-like-it-is sister and her husband, and Olivia Colman (2011's "The Iron Lady") goes for broke as barely-hinged marriage counselor Linda.

"I Give It a Year" might not seem as if it's inventing the wheel as it plays out, but a closer look reveals that writer-director Dan Mazer has attempted to sidestep expectations as much as possible, inverting the formula while saying some important and wise things about romantic relationships, commitment, and the imperfect science that is human chemistry. Even as it goes in a less-traveled direction by the end, Mazer still delivers a conclusion worthy of smiles and swoons. And, lest the more stereotypically macho guys think the film is above them, rest assured the proceedings earn their R rating, from an increasingly tawdry game of charades to an electronic slide-show picture frame featuring some graphic incriminating photos. The mix of the brash with the sincere is just right, never pushing too hard in either direction (except, perhaps, in a scene involving pigeons and a ceiling fan). "I Give It a Year" is attractively photographed by Ben Davis (2012's "Seven Psychopaths"), making beatific use of the London surroundings, and includes a number of well-chosen soundtrack cues, most prominently Lolo Pritch's cover of Crowded Houses's "Don't Dream It's Over." It's the epitome of a crowd-pleaser that also, amazingly, finds a way to bring a new viewpoint to a well-worn genre.
© 2013 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman