Besides its dozen or so big laughs, and its winning streak of middle-upper-crust romantic jadedness, Dan Mazer’s I Give It a Year has going for it a trait you might have thought had been bred entirely out of audience-pleasing romantic comedies by now: suspense about who its leads will happily-ever-after with. Writer-director Mazer even strikes at the heart of an actual dilemma faced by actual humans. Instead of giving us the usual bumbling singles—beautiful, charismatic actors and actresses fit as professional trainers and pretending, ridiculously, that nobody anywhere is willing to love them—I Give It a Year opens at its central couple’s sumptuous wedding and then follows along as they work out whether they really meant forever-ever.
Nat (Rose Byrne) discovers her novelist husband, Josh (Rafe Spall), is a bit of a prat, something we see signs of at their wedding reception when she whispers to him, “I had this terrible fear you were going to do some sort of novelty dance,” the second before the ’90s hip-hop sirens begin wailing. Once married, he suffers writer’s block and nests on the couch killing time with his laptop. As she bustles about the apartment, he hollers, “Come look at this video of a monkey fucking a bullfrog!”
A beat later: “Aw, he’s killed it!”
Josh, meanwhile, discovers Nat isn’t much fun. But both are pledged to their bond, so they make a go of it, even as each faces weirdly parallel temptations from idealized alternative mates. Josh reconnects with do-gooder ex Chloe (Anna Faris, the film’s most agreeable presence, and star of its funniest scene, a slapstick threesome), Nat with Simon Baker’s millionaire industrialist, a charming oak of a man carved out of a block of pure handsomeness. “You realize you’d be the heir to a solvent fortune,” he says, wooing her, “and that’s not to be sniffed at—literally.” Then he lists the side effects of solvent-sniffing.
The dilemma: Should young-ish folks uncertain their marriage is a good idea stick with it out of duty to the idea of it, to the possibility it might work out? Their choices, and the series of surprises Mazer springs before the resolution, prove not just diverting but surprisingly thoughtful, even if we’re never given too much reason to care about Nat and Josh. Neither has that Hugh Grant knack for making the love-plights of the beautiful feel universal, a shame considering the scenario is reasonably fresh.
Mazer intends his parade of R-rated comedy scenes to sweeten the divorce drama. These range from straight-up hilarious (Josh trying to hide sex pics from his in-laws) to haphazard messes that cut too hard against the film’s reality. The solvent king’s plan to win Nat involves releasing doves in a conference room with a ceiling fan, and a framing device involving a rude, disinterested marriage counselor proves distractingly sour—it complements the sweeter material like orange juice and toothpaste. The funny stuff outweighs the cock-ups, and supporting performances from Stephen Merchant and Minnie Driver kick the movie toward something grander. In the opening moments, Merchant’s stringbean louse delivers a bad best man’s speech for the ages; then, for the rest of the film, whenever he’s onscreen he just keeps it going, his every line a slice of prime, clueless misogyny.