Director: Dan Mazer; Screenwriter: Dan Mazer; Starring: Rafe Spall, Rose Byrne, Anna Faris, Simon Baker, Stephen Merchant; Running time: 97 mins; Certificate: 15
When you hear that the guy who wrote Brüno is working on a Richard Curtis-esque comedy about fresh-faced London newlyweds, you're bound to walk in with very particular expectations. So while I Give It a Year might not turn out to be quite the irreverent social satire you're anticipating, it's an unusually funny, sharp and salty rom-com with characters you like, situations you recognise, and jokes you won't see coming.
The premise doesn't scream originality: mismatched 30-somethings Josh (Rafe Spall) and Nat (Rose Byrne) marry within months of meeting despite their chalk-and-cheese differences. She's an ambitious career girl, he's a stay-at-home aspiring writer; she's polished, he's scruffy; she's alpha, he's beta. Nothing about their wedding ceremony bodes well, and their assembled friends - notably Nat's acerbic sister (a standout Minnie Driver) - predict they'll last less than a year.
But where the Curtis model would dictate that true love win out and opposites attract beyond all logic (did anybody seriously think Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell stood a chance?), here Josh and Nat really are just plain wrong for each other, and not in a fun, sparky, thin-line-between-love-and-hate way.
Whether you call it cynicism or brutal honesty, there's a distinct bitterness to Dan Mazer's script that both bolsters the laughs and dulls the emotional impact. It's not easy to care for most of these characters, flawed and disillusioned and essentially selfish as they are, and you certainly can't root for either the central couple or for Nat's budding flirtation with smarmy colleague Guy (Simon Baker). Anna Faris, though, is hugely appealing as Josh's do-gooder ex-flame Chloe, and Spall's feckless lead becomes more likable by virtue of being around her.
But Mazer doesn't let his ill-matched lovebirds off the hook and into their better-suited relationships that easily, instead forcing them into couples counselling with Olivia Colman's embittered, possibly unhinged therapist. It's these scenes that best sum up Mazer's gleefully cynical approach to the whole genre: this couple isn't about to be saved by sharing and caring, but it sure is funny watching them try.
What the film lacks in heart it makes up for in genuine, frequent belly laughs. Mazer distinguishes his rom-com from the crowd by interspersing character comedy with broader set pieces that would almost work as standalone sketches. One is comfortably the least sexy threesome you're ever likely to see on screen, while another proves that doves actually aren't all that romantic in an enclosed space.
Anybody familiar with London will appreciate Mazer's anti-Curtis approach to the city, more Soho than South Bank, but regardless of region it's hard to resist I Give It a Year's spiky charms.