Mazer has worked with the comic actor not only as writer-producer of “Da Ali G Show,” but on his famous “Borat” and infamous “Bruno” among other collaborations. Cohen’s brand of toxic inappropriateness and clueless joking is a tough act for anyone to pull off. Indeed Cohen himself has struggled with the approach lately.
However, Mazer flames out to such a degree that watching “I Give It a Year” evokes more pain than laughs.
It begins with a wedding ceremony that puts you in mind of a Hugh Grant movie. Which only makes sense since the film is from Working Title (among others), home to Richard Curtis and to Grant.
Flighty, high maintenance Nat (Aussie actress Rose Byrne) is marrying an emotionally retarded writer named Josh (Rafe Spall). The ceremony isn’t over before Minnie Driver (vastly underused here) delivers the film’s title prediction.
By this time though, you in the audience are even more apprehensive.
It begins when the minister is about to pronounce them man and wife. He gets a coughing fit. Okay, a quick, prescient cough here might have made a good joke. This cough though goes on and on for seemingly the entire first act, signaling that you’re in the hands of a director lacking command of his own movie. The gag goes from minor funny to major annoyance.
Then comes the obligatory inappropriate toast by the groom’s best man (Stephen Merchant) fueled by too much cheap champagne and a misguided sense of humor. The bit just lays there and dies.
The idea, I suppose, is Mazer thinks a character frantically trying to be funny with material that isn’t the least bit funny is actually funny. Whereas you actually must suffer through a bit that not only isn’t funny but an untried director, clearly out of his depth, keeps going on and on in the belief that the worse it gets the funnier it must be.
This sets the tone for the movie.
Characters gather around scenes, some of which barely relate to the story, that serve as a kind of one-up-man-ship in which each character tries to top the others’ ghastly remarks.
One male — I believe it once again is motor-mouth Merchant, an actor who seriously needs to come with an Off switch — declares he’s off to “the little boys’ room,” then adds “to look for little boys.” Again, Mazer no doubt realizes how bad that sounds but somehow is convinced that if he knows it’s bad and his audience knows it’s bad, then it must be hilarious.
The entire movie is like this.
The story? Oh, you know the story from the title. Neither protagonist has any reason to be married to the other, raising the question of how this accident happened in the first place.
Each has a viable alternative: Nat with a rich and handsome American (Simon Baker) and Josh with an ex-girlfriend (Anna Faris), also American, whom he forgot to break up with prior to his wedding.
There are any number of scenes designed around a particular actor or situation Mazer thought might be uproariously funny that bear scant relationship to the story.
These include a scene in which the couple’s unhinged marriage counselor (Olivia Colman) has a melt down, an insurance salesman (Tim Key) making repeated bad jokes and an absurd sex scene that finds Faris as the third wheel in a three-way tryst.
(The latter scene, thanks to Faris, is almost funny. I repeat — almost.)
More troubling than misfired comedy is the acidic tone maintained throughout by the writer-director. He likes none of his characters. None. He has created them to dump on them. For what it’s worth, the male characters are far dopier than the women.
Spall has no chance of making anything out of his emotionally stunted layabout whose jokes would make an adolescent wince. (Which in turns makes both females true idiots for seeing anything in this character that no one else ever saw.)
Baker is meant to be all charm and warmth but the actor (no doubt with Mazer’s approval) plays him so smarmy you can’t help recoiling.
You might sympathize with the women (and most certainly the actresses struggling to play these roles), but Mazer insists that no one should be likable. He gets his wish.
Ben Davis’ fine cinematography in London locations puts one in a Curtis/Grant frame of mind but the messy, misanthropic movie sabotages this at every turn.
At the box office, I give it a week.
Opens: August 9, 2013 (Magnolia Pictures)
Production company: Working Title, StudioCanal
Cast: Rose Byrne, Rafe Spall, Simon Baker, Anna Faris, Stephen Merchant, Minnie Driver
Writer-director: Dan Mazer
Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Kris Thykier
Executive producers: Debra Hayward, Liza Chasin, Olivier Courson, Ron Halpern
Director of photography: Ben Davis
Production designer: Simon Elliott
Music: Ilan Eshkeri
Costume designer: Charlotte Walter
Editor: Tony Cranstoun
R rating, 97 minutes