Ah, the romantic comedy. Comfort food to most, minor distraction to others — there’s never been much need for alteration. Sure, life is more Blue Valentine than Crazy, Stupid, Love., but movies are entertainment first and foremost and financed with the imperative that they make money. Great films, it seems to me, are few and far between due to the immutability of what makes box office returns, with too many people’s livelihoods at stake with each project and demographic concerns to be considered. So most movies come across like PowerPoint presentations combining as many lifestyles and pop culture elements as possible. The personal aspect that may have been present in a story initially becomes more and more collaboratively altered to suit whatever works, and nowhere is this compromised quality more apparent than in the rom-com. A little something for everyone, and please make every bit of unpleasantness as light and inconsequential as possible.
I Give It a Year fits this bill, despite some perhaps unintentionally brutal bits of awkwardness. Yet it’s actually pretty damned funny (mostly due to the decidedly witty dialogue) with Stephen Merchant, Olivia Coleman, and Anna Faris delivering some particularly ‘on’ moments (with a great slapstick sequence of Faris’s character having a lousy time at a threesome). Rafe Spall (son of Timothy) is pretty good at playing up his character’s goofy tendencies, but doesn’t quite register as a real person. Actually no one does. The whole thing would be acceptable as a Merchant/Gervais-style farce if it weren’t so keen on it’s pop song montage sporting, “there was the time you…” transitioning, opposites-don’t-attract-after-all, rudimentary framing. The love story doesn’t really register at all beyond the quaint, whirlwind-romance opening credits montage. Every supposedly genuine moment between the principal cast has a reaching, stocky quality. It’s this cloyingness that keeps the film from really taking off. In other words, for me, the ‘rom’ part is completely lacking, tired and not so true.
Perhaps the film was pitched as The Office meets Love, Actually. But the way people are constantly embarrassing themselves and being awful is too prevalent to ricochet back to doe-eyed poignancy. Minnie Driver plays perhaps the worst-written character in the film (imagine Susie from Curb without the bedazzled sweatshirts or comic timing and you’re close), as she is so nasty to her hubby that it goes from from surprising to depressing to just glaringly obnoxious. Driver can do better than this, but she’s not even given a chance to be a funny stock character. Merchant, on the other hand, is pretty hilarious as always, however stock his character of resident boor might be (think Philip Seymour in Along Came Polly). Olivia Coleman (Peep Show’s Sophie) is a welcome presence as an ambivalent marriage counselor, but the bits with her don’t correspond well to the surrounding moments due to their contrived and over-the-top quality. So basically what we have here is a sloppy, uneven movie, but seeing as how I laughed heartily throughout I can hardly dismiss it altogether.
After writing stints on strong improvisatory comedies like Ali G, Borat and Brüno, writer/director Dan Mazer seems to be struggling with narrative. He has the talent. He has funny lines. But, as with Cohen and The Dictator, he seems better at making a scene than stitching them together in a traditional fashion. There are plenty of comedies that manage the blue-yet-breezy trick, and Mazer does likewise. But the banter is so strong as to make me think he should set his sites a little higher than a nuts-and-bolts mainstream romantic comedy framework. Perhaps a Peep Show film? One can hope.