By JAMES DAWSON
Front Row Features Film Critic
The ridiculously lovely Rose Byrne lights up the brilliantly British “I Give It a Year,” a mish-mash of ditzy and edgy humor with more charm and wickedly winning wordplay than the average chick flick.
Part of this tartly offbeat rom-com’s appeal is a screenplay (by director Dan Mazer) that makes it impossible not to hope both halves of a blatantly mismatched married couple will end up cheating on each other. Now that’s a new one.
Byrne is Nat, a smart, subdued but effortlessly sexy London advertising exec (moviedom’s favorite go-to cliché occupation). Her opposites-apparently-attract husband is Josh (Rafe Spall) an embarrassingly immature and socially inept stay-at-home writer (moviedom’s second-favorite character career).
After less than a year of marriage, Nat falls for a wealthy, handsome and all-around swoonworthy client named Guy (Simon Baker, doing an American accent that sounds almost unnervingly like an extended Matthew Broderick impersonation). Meanwhile, Josh still happens to be in love with his adoring if tomboy-unglamorous former girlfriend Chloe (Anna Faris).
The movie’s cynical but intriguing humor revolves around whether Nat and Josh will pass up their chances at grabbing true love just because they happen to have married the wrong people. There’s also the fact that they don’t want to give friends and family members, who were dubious about their marriage from the outset, the satisfaction of being able to say “I told you so.”
Spall doesn’t do much with the dumb-but-making-an-effort sort of part that Jason Segel keeps playing in American movies. But Byrne manages to shine at physical comedy (ducking doves in a seduction scene gone wrong), the irresistible slow boil (when her posh parents accidentally are exposed to her explicit honeymoon-night photos) and the all-important ability to stare wistfully into space while looking drop-dead gorgeous.
The rich supporting cast includes Brit-com vets from “The Young Ones” (Nigel Planer) and “Peep Show” (Olivia Colman), Jason Flemyng and Minnie Driver as endearingly animosity-filled spouses (“Embrace the hatred!”) and Ricky Gervais sideman Stephen Merchant as a hilariously offensive friend of the family.
Merchant’s gleefully clueless best-man toast at Nat and Josh’s wedding is a cringeworthy classic full of inappropriate sexual references, such as the suggestion that he might have sex with Nat’s pre-teen bridesmaids when they get older. Colman is a rude and loudly unhinged marriage counselor who uses an anatomically correct stuffed doll to ask Nat if Josh “touched her there.”
Best known for collaborating with Sacha Baron Cohen on completely over-the-top projects ranging from “Da Ali G Show” through “Borat,” “Bruno” and “The Dictator,” director/writer Mazer has an unexpected talent for tweaking the rom-com recipe enough to make it tastier without sacrificing the standard ingredients. The movie’s ending goes on a little long, but gets points for doing something new (and somewhat subversive) with the familiar “racing to stop the object of desire from departing” wrap-up.
Not perfect but far more satisfying than typical Hollywood sitcom-level fare, “I Give It a Year” is as much rude fun as a wedding-cake face cram.