'I Give It a Year' review: Rose Byrne and Rafe Spall are looking for laughs in a doomed marriage

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From time immemorial, romantic comedies have but one rule one they dare not break. We must root for romance, for love to triumph, for those two crazy kids (or adorable geezers, or every age in between) to make it work out and give us "The Hollywood Ending."

So hand "I Give it a Year" props for having the guts to turn that convention on its ear.

This not-quite-romantic/not-terribly funny rom-com flips so many tropes from such stories -- a courtship, wedding, embarrassing wedding toast by the best man, post-marital temptation -- that even after writer-director Dan Mazer has taken a stab at going down the primrose path less traveled, it's still a shock that he thinks so little of his couple ( Rose Byrne and Rafe Spall) that he doesn't care if we root for them. Because he plainly doesn't.

Nat and Josh are young London professionals. He's a writer who focuses on noble causes in the Third World, she's a marketing director and PR consultant. "I'm a thinker, you're a doer" is how Josh sums her up at their wedding.

There are other things they don't have in common. She likes being out of the limelight, he's a showboat, a loud drunk and the sort of guy who makes his wholly inappropriate mate, Danny ( Ricky Gervais's sidekick, Stephen Merchant) his best man.

Nat's cynical sister ( Minnie Driver) stops insulting her husband long enough to pass judgment on the couple as they exchange vows -- "I give it a year."

Anna Faris is the foreign aid worker Josh loved until she went off to save the Third World. 

Simon Baker is the callow, dashing Yank who hires Nat's firm to re-brand his company. Josh carries a torch, Nat slips off her ring and lets the Yank flirt and flirt and come on absurdly strong.

Her ticks -- singing the wrong lyrics to song after song on the radio -- and his (a lack of boundaries, an inability to hold his liquor) become major bones of contention.
And next thing we know, they're telling their troubles to a psychotically maladjusted marriage counselor.

Driver gets to be the sharp-tongued voice of wisdom who confesses that Justin Bieber videos are the only thing that turn her on in her marriage these days.

"I'd RUIN Bieber."

Merchant goes off and makes his own movie playing a sort of Asperger version of every wedding comedy sidekick ever -- missing every "You're going too far" signal, crossing every line with his goggle-eyed crudeness.

It all might go down more easily if the leads had more chemistry -- we'd feel their pain -- and if the jokes piled around them weren't so broad and insistent. Their minister has a coughing fit mid-ceremony, their attorney draws up their will and end-of-life wishes and cannot pronounce "persistent vegetative state."

"I Give It A Year" grows pretty tiresome pretty quickly. And even if we understand the things each is doing to drive the other crazy, it still seems like a flimsy foundation to build a happily-divorced-ever-after comedy on.

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I GIVE IT A YEAR
(Grade C-)
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, language and some graphic nudity.
Cast: Rose Byrne, Rafe Spall, Simon Baker, Anna Faris, Stephen Merchant
Credits: Written and directed by Dan Mazer, A Magnolia release
Running time: 1:37
Photo/Video credit: StudioCanal
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