Festival season is in full swing in the summer, so we naturally wind up with a plethora of film reviews from various festivals around the country, even after the festivals are long over. We've chosen to dole them out to you individually, and today Nate Abernethy covers I Give It a Year, the feature film debut of Ali G collaborator Dan Mazer. Mazer worked with Ali G as a director and writer on Da Ali G Show but this is the first time he has helmed the director's chair in film. Mazer also wrote the film, which concerns the trials and tribulations of a newly married couple in their first year of marriage. Nate saw this film at this year's SXSW Film festival, which Nick Hanover and Dylan Garsee reported on daily.
I still die laughing every single time I revisit Da Ali G Show. No one outside of perhaps Australian comedy collective The Chaser has done satire comedy as brilliantly and effortlessly as the writing duo of Dan Mazer and Sacha Baron Cohen. The pair knows funny like nobody’s business and their comedic approaches complement each other perfectly. So how does Mazer’s first cinematic outing without Cohen fare? Despite an incredibly talented cast, Cohen’s balancing presence is sorely missed and Mazer’s amateurish directing drags I Give It A Year down into a humorous but unremarkable affair.
I Give It A Year heralds itself as breaking all the rules of romantic comedies as it picks up where the others leave off, at the wedding. The criminally overlooked Rose Byrne and equally underrated Rafe Spall star as the newly-wed couple, Nat and Josh, whose complete mismatch becomes painfully apparent as their wedded bliss turns out to be anything but. I can’t heap enough praise onto Byrne and Spall as they do everything in their power to make their characters remotely likable. They are the saving grace of this film, and without their presence I would have been far crueler in my reception. It’s easy to get laughs in comedy, but it’s damn near impossible to do so while giving an earnest and convincing portrayal. This is Byrne’s forte as she cements the film with a persuasive performance and is irresistibly entertaining in what could have been a dull, one-note character. Between Byrne’s performance and Spall’s charm the film starts off strong and holds the promise of being an unconventional romantic comedy. This promise disintegrates as we follow Nat and Josh through their first year of marriage.
As Nat and Josh realize their incompatibility, in comes the disgustingly handsome Simon Baker as Guy, a client of Nat’s, and the always endearing Anna Faris as Chloe, a former girlfriend of Josh. Nat is naturally attracted to Guy, meanwhile Josh stirs up old feelings for Chloe. While I would argue that Anna Faris instantly makes any movie better, and indeed this is probably her best turn since 2007’s Smiley Face, I would have been far more intrigued to see where I Give It A Year could have gone had new romantic interests not been shoehorned in. At this point the film emotionally disengages the audience. There’s nothing to root for anymore, and at the same time Mazer is afraid of making anyone seem like the bad guy. Now if you can get past that? It’s still a damn funny movie. At times it plays like a British sketch show, with little cinematic pacing but instead its punch lines and pratfalls fire in non-stop rapid succession.
As the film progresses it feels like its falling victim to the exact same rom-com formula that it sticks its nose up at. From the nice neat little way the conclusion is tied up to scene-stealer Stephen Merchant as the obligatory inappropriate best friend, albeit admittedly Merchant’s ad-libs do provide some of the films biggest laughs. However, where fellow British director Mike Leigh has succeeded in integrating improv seamlessly into a film, Mazer’s directing leaves Merchant’s bits feeling disjointed. It’s these kinds of little hiccups that would have gone unnoticed in a 5-minute Ali G segment, but that stick out like a sore thumb in the context of a feature film.
Ultimately the film is nowhere near as witty or lofty as it presents itself as being, but by the time it reaches its over the top ending it seems aware of that. Mazer redeems himself here, as he isn’t afraid to poke a little fun at the film. I Give It A Year will make for a great Netflix watch that will entertain and amuse you a
nd then slowly and completely fade from your memory.
Nate Abernethy is a magical sprite we captured and forced to do film reviews. He somehow also wound up with a twitter account @NateAbernethy