Fanning the Flames: Supporting cast shines in UK Rom-com
Romantic comedies are good for you in moderation. More than most genres, rom-coms are forced to adhere to a strict regimen, hardly ever drawing outside of the lines; however many laughs, a moderate level of drama, and a happy ending—even those that end poorly have a Silver Lining. Producer-turned first time filmmaker Dan Mazer stays true to its format, following the tumultuous first year of marriage for Nat (Rose Byrne) and Josh (Rafe Spall) and though I Give It a Year never surprises, it equally never disappoints with a lively ensemble cast and enough laughs to maintain its audience’s attention.
The film opens at the wedding. The best man, Danny (a brilliant comedic turn for Stephen Merchant) gives the prerequisite speech and does not disappoint. He inadvertently hits on two ten year-old bridesmaids (“Maybe when they’re older, never say never,” he confides to 300 people), says that “Nat could easily be a model… if it wasn’t for her nose,” and toasts her ex-boyfriend for cheating, enabling and giving birth to this beautiful union. All of the supporting cast entertain and keep the attitude light and buoyant but from the outset, Merchant shines brightest, always with the perfect mix of positivity and perversity.
The marriage is doomed from the start. Nat and Josh seemingly get along, and look good on paper, but something is amiss from the first night. Josh has an ex-girlfriend, Chloe, (Anna Faris) who he’s still (too?) close with while Nat’s new boss Guy (Simon Baker) is her actual ideal, and she finds herself fighting every fiber of her being to resist him. No matter how many twists, turns, or fakes over the course of ninety minutes, it is clear where this is going. Jason Flemyng and Minnie Driver (Hugh and Naomi) play a slightly older married couple, one for whom the honeymoon ended long ago. In a botched game of charades, when Josh points at Hugh, Naomi shouts, “Impotent, sick, stupid, effeminate, annoying idiot” and when pointing at Naomi, Hugh blurts out, “Barren… Baron Munchausen.” Their dynamic, along with Merchant’s valued contributions, keeps the audience laughing, and distracted.
What saves I Give It a Year is that it is actually laughter-filled. For it would not be a rom-com if it did not adhere to the ironclad rules of the genre. Try as they might, Nat and Josh just cannot seem to make it work. The only thing they can agree on is that they are not right for each other. And while it takes them the length of the film to figure this out, at least there is humor, mostly good and sometimes ill, along the way.
Reviewed on March 9th at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival – Narrative Spotlight section