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In ‘I Give It a Year,’ romance meets raunch

Rafe Spall and Rose Byrne star in first-time director Dan Mazer’s “I Give It a Year.”Jules Heath/Magnolia Pictures

Since it looks like the romantic comedy isn't going away any time soon, some filmmakers are trying to make the most of it. Indie filmmaker Joe Swanberg, for example, has applied the so-called "mumblecore" style to the genre in the upcoming "Drinking Buddies." And first-time director Dan Mazer, screenwriter of films such as "Borat" (2006) and "The Dictator" (2012), combines the raunchy humor of those films with romantic comedy conventions in "I Give It a Year."

The tonal clash is jarring, and Mazer doesn't help matters by erring on the side of blandness. In one scene a character facetiously comments, all too accurately, "This is just like a Hugh Grant movie!" That's only part of the problem. Like all current rom-coms, and unlike the template that goes back to the days of Frank Capra and Howard Hawks, the friction occurs not between representatives of opposed social groups, but between variations of the same insipid type. Who has the coolest taste and style, and how can that person find the partner who is the best match? These films aren't about class conflict, but about superficial classiness, and the lack thereof.


Of the four main characters, Josh (Rafe Spall) fits most comfortably in the unclassy category. A sometime novelist with a boorish sense of humor, he nonetheless woos and wins the lovely, no-nonsense Nat (Rose Byrne), a go-getter at an ad agency. But trouble looms as early as their wedding reception — not just because Josh's best man Danny (Stephen Merchant) offends nearly everyone with that hoary movie wedding tradition, the obnoxious toast to the bride and groom. Danny also indiscreetly mentions that one of the wedding guests, Chloe (Anna Faris in the film's most endearing performance), had a relationship with Josh four years earlier that never quite came to end.

Chloe, though she has a serious job at a charitable organization, balances her altruistic idealism by being an unpretentious goof herself, someone who spends her spare time lounging around in front of the TV wearing a SpongeBob SquarePants bathrobe. Add to the mix Nat's client Guy (Simon Baker), a suave, seductive American who probably never would leave a toilet seat up, and the dynamics are established — only the mechanics of how to get each of these misfit partners reassigned to their appropriate mates remain to be worked out.


Well, not quite. This being a film by someone whose previous work features naked guys wrestling, some way must be devised to inject transgressive comedy. Mazer does so by turning the supporting characters into grotesques. That includes Danny, who persists in his offensive monologues throughout the film. And Olivia Colman as a wedding counselor; she too is crude and outrageous, but sometimes funny.

Though Mazer's ambition is laudable, he has not yet integrated the comedy of manners into the comedy of no manners (he might look for tips in the 2011 hit "Bridesmaids"). I'd give him a year to figure it out.

Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.