What is the opposite of a “meet-cute,” the well-worn rom-com device that employs every possible version of those slapstick coffee-spilling/dog-leashes tangling/book-dropping clichés in order to get the film’s lovers properly introduced? So prevalent has this trope become in romantic comedies that its inversion, a goofy and endearing separation of the film’s protagonists, has, until recently, been almost unthinkable.
But the rules for rom-coms are changing, and we may have recently entered the era of the beat-it-cute. As last summer’s indie darling Celeste & Jesse Forever tried to prove, sometimes there is such a thing as a gay divorce (as in Cole Porter, if that clarifies anything). Only one year later, and we have our second attempt at the “friends with Balkanization” theme, with the British import I Give It a Year, a movie that makes one wonder whether millennials are so scarred by divorce statistics that “happily ever after” now refers exclusively to non-litigious trial separations.
I Give It a Year gets points for originality and brevity: it dispenses with the meet-cute in a two-second glance at a party between Nat (Rose Byrne) and Josh (Rafe Spall), for whom love at first sight is exactly that. Three or four montage clips of the happy couple enjoying a whirlwind romance, and then a slam-cut to the wedding, all before the first words of dialogue are ever spoken. One thing you can say about director-writer Dan Mazer’s story: it doesn’t dawdle. Unfortunately, the aggressive pacing means forsaking the answers to questions like “What drew Josh and Nat together in the first place?” and for that matter, “Who the hell are these characters?” and “Why should I be at all emotionally invested in their (lack of a) romance?”
To be fair, all romantic comedies involve a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. Only by throwing out everything we know about the mechanics of actual human relationships can we believe that either Mr. Darcy or the Manic Pixie Dream Girl are attractive suitors. So, sure, Josh and Nat fell in love rather quickly and we don’t know anything about them—nor they about each other, really—until after the vows, by which point it’s too late for everyone involved.
For the next 90 minutes we are dragged along as both parties develop feelings for other people: she for her American client Guy Harrap (The Mentalist’s Simon Baker) and he for his American ex-girlfriend (Anna Faris). (Is it ingenious casting or a fluke accident that the film got two actors whose breakout roles involved playing the sexy but unlikeable home wrecker—The Devil Wears Prada and Lost in Translation, respectively—only to have them revise their characters in a scenario in which they seem like the preferable options? The first would seem more likely, if only because the film also cast the impeccable Stephen Merchant to play Josh’s best friend, a role that lets The Office co-creator chew scenery with a Welles-ian appetite.)
There are indiscretions, adulterous temptations, separation, therapy and reconciliation. Though to tell you in what order these events occur would be to spoil the only fun you’ll get in this “Will they or won’t they stay together?” romp.
I Give It a Year
Written by: Dan Mazer
Directed by: Dan Mazer
Starring: Rose Byrne, Rafe Spall, Anna Faris, Simon Baker, Stephen Merchant
Running time: 97 min.