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For Your Consideration: 'I Give It a Year'

Most romantic comedies are simply reiterations of the same overtired plot device, cinematized pulp not worth serious consideration. A select few examples -- When Harry Met Sally, Roman Holiday, Four Weddings and a Funeral, There's Something about Mary, Breakfast at Tiffany's, to name a few -- rise above the genre, mostly by being so well written that they are irresistible. I Give It a Year, the new romantic comedy by Dan Mazer (his first feature as a director), aspires to be among that list, even making its aspirations clear by a number of rather transparent homages to successful romantic comedies. There are some good laughs to be had along the way, and it would be a not unenjoyable movie for date night, but that is all it achieves.

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I Give It a Year (directed by Dan Mazer)
The premise is that this movie begins where most romantic comedies end, with the wedding of business-savvy, aerobicised Nat (Rose Byrne, from Marie-Antoinette, Damages) and stalled novelist and couch potato Josh (Rafe Spall, most recognizable from small parts in Life of Pi and Shaun of the Dead). No one at the wedding seems to think that a marriage between these two can last more than a year: thus the title, which is something that the meaner ones among us have likely said at at least one wedding at some point in life. It is a fact that the failure rate of marriages is somewhere around 50%: although one wishes every newlywed couple the best of luck, the odds are against them. Josh is still in touch with his last girlfriend, who went off to Africa to do good for a few years without really breaking up with him, played with an understated touch by Baltimore native Anna Faris, somehow made to look somewhat plain (and deadpan perfect in what turns out to be the world's most awkward threesome). Nat pretends to be single to try to hook an advertising contract with a new client, an American businessman played by Australian actor Simon Baker (The Mentalist, The Devil Wears Prada), and she obviously enjoys flirting with him.

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In the end, you do not really care if the marriage makes it or not, because the characters merit no sympathy in their flatness. Dan Mazer directed his own screenplay, and while it has some great lines, it has the feel of a series of sketches stitched into a movie -- which is exactly the sort of writing Mazer has done up to this point (Ali G, Borat, Brüno). The best parts of the film come from a series of vividly etched supporting characters, who leap off the screen by comparison to the main ones. As Nat's cynical sister, Minnie Driver (Circle of Friends, Grosse Pointe Blank -- remember her?) exchanges caustic barbs with her henpecked husband, played by Jason Flemyng (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). Stephen Merchant (The Office) tries very hard and occasionally hits the mark as Josh's perpetually foot-in-mouth Best Man, while Olivia Colman (Hyde Park on Hudson, The Iron Lady) gets the absolute best laughs of all as a marriage counselor who has no right giving advice on being married. Not surprisingly, the script comes to life in scenes where the rules of decorum and sexual propriety are most intensely violated. As a digital photo frame, a gift from Nat's judgmental parents, starts to flash raunchy sex photos at the family Christmas gathering or as a game of charades goes badly awry, one begins to wish that Mazer had just made another outrageous movie with Sacha Baron Cohen instead.

This film opens today in Washington, at the E Street Cinema.

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