So many films end with a wedding that it seems like a fresh idea to start a movie with one, especially a union that doesn’t guarantee a happily ever after. But the British film “I Give It a Year” doesn’t deliver much else in the way of originality. In addition to some trite set pieces, writer-director Dan Mazer serves up nothing more than conspicuous cynicism masquerading as comedy.
As the opening credits roll, Josh (Rafe Spall) meets and woos Nat (Rose Byrne). Their seven-month courtship leads to a wedding that nearly everyone thinks is too soon. Nat’s sister, Naomi (Minnie Driver), is a chronic killjoy, but you have to admit she has a point when she utters the line that gives the film its title, and during the ceremony, no less.
That the officiant bursts into a coughing spasm just as he’s about to pronounce the pair husband and wife foreshadows the difficulties to come. But a terrible best-man speech — that old chestnut — not to mention the declaration by Josh’s parents that the first year of marriage is a nightmare, broadcasts a decisive forecast: The honeymoon is over, and it hasn’t even begun.
The biggest problem turns out to be that Nat and Josh don’t like each other. It’s easy to see why, given that neither party is particularly pleasant. Nat is uptight and gloomy, and Josh is a lazy numskull whose career as a novelist consists mostly of sitting on the couch. Another complication emerges as more suitable partners appear for both husband and wife. Josh has the same childish sense of humor as his ex-girlfriend, Chloe (a brunette Anna Faris), who returns to London from Africa just in time for the wedding. And Nat’s new client, Guy (Simon Baker), is dashing and painfully serious. What’s more, Guy wants to be with Nat, and Chloe still loves Josh.
As their emotional affairs heat up, Nat and Josh become increasingly mean and easily exasperated by all the things you might expect. Nat realizes her husband might be incapable of replacing toilet paper rolls and taking out the trash. And Josh finds his wife’s habit of singing along to songs, even though she doesn’t know the words, grating. There is not one reasonable person in this movie’s world who can offer some perspective on how to treat a person, much less a spouse. Instead, Josh and Nat confer with an incompetent marriage counselor, who pauses their session to take a phone call during which she threatens to stab her husband in the eye, and the surly Naomi, who tells Nat to “embrace the hatred.”
As the movie tries to find comedy in mean-spiritedness, it also relies heavily on oversharing as a source of laughs. Mazer has plenty of experience with awkward humor given that he co-wrote episodes of “Da Ali G Show,” as well as “Borat” and “Bruno.” But so many of the characters in “I Give It a Year” seem to have misplaced their filters that the different variations on the same joke become tiresome.
With the exception of Guy and Chloe, the characters are either hostile or generous only with details no one wants to hear. Unhappily ever after might be the outcome they deserve.
R. At Landmark’s Bethesda Row Cinema. Contains sexual situations, language and nudity.