Judge Gordon Sullivan once jumped out a window to escape a rom-com. That's escapism.
Will they make it?
The romantic comedy genre is pretty elastic. Every film has to hit a few notes—thwarted love, eventual reconciliation, a few romantic gestures—but is surprisingly free otherwise. The film can feature one couple or a host of them, a man and a woman or partners of the same gender, and we've seen rom-coms for couples of all kinds of ages. The genre even allows for films that are cynical about love, as characters who have been wounded are healed and learn to love again. However, despite all this flexibility, there is one thing the genre cannot abide: cynicism toward the genre itself. Yes, the rom-com is a highly formulaic genre, but that's entirely its pleasure. Films that try to undermine that sense of pleasure do so at their peril. I Give It a Year skirts that line for much of its running time, trying to bring something new to the genre. However, despite its solid cast, many viewers will be put off by the lack of respect the film has for its genre.
Nat (Rose Byrne, Bridesmaids) and Josh (Rafe Spall, Prometheus) are the perfect rom-com couple: she's a high-powered corporate consultant, he's an out-of-work writer. They're perfectly mismatched, so much in fact their friends are taking bets on when they'll divorce. The questions get more pointed when Josh's old flame Chloe (Anna Faris, The House Bunny) arrives in town while Nat has an attractive new American client (Simon Baker, The Devil Wears Prada).
I Give It a Year deserves some credit for trying to do something new with the rom-com formula. The pairing of Nat and Josh takes the odd-couple conceit to a pretty absurd extreme; it's not surprising that scribe-turned-first-time-director worked closely with Sacha Baron Cohen for a decade. He takes delight in putting his characters in awkward situations that look similar to other rom-com situations we've seen. More importantly, perhaps, he takes the usual rom-com situations at face value. In the world of romantic comedies, the apparent differences between Nat and Josh would all be on the surface, as the film exposed the deep core of friendship and similarity they obviously share. I Give It a Year takes a certain dark delight in showing how silly that idea really is and how no matter what Nat and Josh think, overcoming certain differences isn't really possible.
A lot of the more difficult things the film attempts succeed because of the excellent cast. Rose Byrne is in danger of being typecast as the icy corporate queen, but she's so good at it that it's hard to complain too loudly about it here. Rafe Spall does his boyish best to be charming as the blocked writer, and some excellent editing keeps his manic tendencies in check perfectly. Simon Baker turns up the charm as the interloping American businessman, with his classic good looks it's not hard to see why he and Byrne would make a great couple. The standout, for me, is Anna Faris, who tones down her usual cute mania to capture a sadder, but more realistic version of the "ex-girlfriend" stereotype.
There's also precious little to complain about with I Give It a Year (Blu-ray). The 2.40:1/1080p AVC-encoded image is sharp throughout. Colors are well-saturated without being too crazy, preserving the British landscape's slightly desaturated look. Black levels are deep enough and consistent, while no compression artefacts mar the image. The DTS-HD 5.1 track is similarly serviceable. Dialogue is always clear and audible, with some surround use to establish the office or street atmospheres. English subtitles are included for those who have difficulty with British accents.
Extras start with bloopers, outtakes, and deleted scenes, many of which are as funny as what made it into the film. We also get a couple of making-of featurettes: one focusing on the production, the other on the film's characters. Finally, we get a collection of interviews with the cast and crew.
The problem with I Give It a Year is that most viewers of the romantic comedy don't want to take the generic conventions seriously. We all understand that what we see in most of those films is pretty improbable, if not outright impossible. Rom-coms are an escape from the sometimes grinding realities of relationships and courtship rituals. Taking them seriously or cynically kind of defeats the purpose of the genre in the first place. Perhaps more significantly, the film feels uneven because of its desire to be honest about generic conventions. There are moments where it must succumb to formula, and those moments don't always sit well with the more absurd moments that Mazer seems intent on exploring.
I Give It a Year seems like a decent compromise comedy, when one person wants a romantic comedy and another wants something with a bit more of an edge to it. The performances are great, but the overall effect isn't as funny as a dark comedy can be, nor as touching as a romantic comedy wants to be. The quality of the I Give It a Year (Blu-ray) makes it easy to recommend for rental to fans of the actors.
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