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Soho not a Happy Christmas: Nat & hub, Josh's body language says it all (Photo: Giles Keyte)

Soho not a Happy Christmas: Nat & hub, Josh’s body language (right) says it all (Photo: Giles Keyte)

Tis The Season For Misunderstanding and Shame

‘]Christmas parties] are an opportunity for you to tell the person you’ve had a secret crush on all year how you really feel about them.’ In a pulsating nightclub, successful businessman and smooth American, Guy (The Mentalist’s Simon Baker) is making a play for all-but-on-the-same page PR and English rose, Nat (Rose Byrne, Damages). Even as she’s surreptitiously removing her wedding ring, and avoiding admitting that the over-excited party-goer who’s just burst in on this tentative moment of intimacy happens to be her ill-suited husband, Josh (Rafe Spall, Life of Pi). Later, appalled by Josh’s behaviour, Nat storms off home without him.

Meanwhile, in another part of London, Josh’s ex, American aid worker, Chloe (Anna Faris, Scary Movie) is having Christmas dinner with her colleagues in a local Indian restaurant and ready to make a run for it with a workmate back to his apartrment. But when he invites a second woman into his bed, a nonplussed Chloe tears herself away from the tangle of limbs, and leaves.

And the very next day, after Nat has left for work without a word, a hungover Josh rises from the sofa and answers a call from Chloe to her flat where she’s licking her emotional wounds.

Trying too hard

It’s not difficult to work out how I Give It A Year will end. The very name of writer/director Dan Mazer’s romcom gives the game away, the title sequence of Josh and Nat’s whirlwind romance seques into a wedding which screams Il-matched Couple!’ And at the wedding reception, the camera lingers on Chloe who still holds a candle for the groom.

I first saw the film’s trailer in the spring when I was treating my elderly mother to Les Miserables at the local Odeon. It was a weekday matinee screening, and the audience was predominantly older middle class women. They laughed out loud at Stephen Merchant’s turn as Danny, the excruciating Best Man. My Ma turned to me and whispered, ‘I must see that!’

I’m so glad I didn’t follow her up on that. Mazer wrote the screenplay for Borat which explains a lot. I Give It A Year is a film that tries so hard to place its characters in toe-curling and offensive situations that such ’colour’ leaks through the screen and ends up alienating half the audience: (it is not just Nat’s posh parents – including a tart Jane Asher – who’ll look on stony-faced at the honeymoon porn shots in the digital frame they’ve been given as a present.)

Unlikeable and implausible

t doesn’t help that none of the characters are especially likeable. When, in the middle of a lingerie shop, Josh says to Chloe (helping him pick a Christmas present for his wife – so already wrong), ‘You’re as useless as all this sexy stuff as I am, aren’t you? You’re happy with a thermal nightie, a Stieg Larsson, and a nice milky tea,’ we can feel the slap in the face it gives her; that he doesn’t know her at all.

Additionally, too many of the scenes are thoroughly implausible, clearly designed just to elicit an emotional response from us – yet they simply don’t work. In When Harry Met Sally, director Rob Reiner and scriptwriter Nora Ephron purposely set a good number of the scenes at Christmas and New Year because they happen to be emotionally-charged festivities whether you are attached or not. I Give It A Year on the other hand, takes the Christmas season as a framework for scenes of embarrassment, shame, and misunderstanding that are supposed to amuse.

The seasonal sequence begins with Nat already exasperated with Josh before the evening has begun and trying to put him off accompanying her to her Christmas works’ do. Then, after his party brush-off, Guy refuses to give up, organising an ill-starred boardroom surprise lunch for Nat complete with oysters, a violinist, and doves. And, by way of marriage counselling with a scene-stealing Olivia Coleman we learn how ‘things really hit a low point around Christmas’ when the couple visited each set of parents.

Give Them A Year

Yet amid the open-jawed horror at what makes up so much of this utter mess of a movie is the gloriously sarky double-act between Minnie Driver and Jason Flemying – including their amusing seasonal send-off at Nat’s parents door that concludes the Christmas sequence. Steph, Nat’s sister, and her doctor husband, Danny appear to have spent their entire marriage insulting each other. But it turns out that they happen to know what’s what after all: ‘Marriage is about living with imperfections, isn’t it?’ Steph explains to her incredulous sister, as she smiles at her husband and they kiss. ‘…And as you get to know each other, you love each other more,’ finishes Danny.

Fazer has said that I Give It A Year is, in fact an Anti-romantic comedy in that you want the couple who marry at the top of the film to part. That’s true. But that the plotline shows what happens after the perfect wedding between two people who aren’t necessarily perfect for each other? That explains everything. Mazer had the camera fixed on the wrong sister all along.

I Give It A Year is available on Blu-ray at £24.99 and DVD at £19.99

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