Writer Dan Mazer, a longtime Sacha Baron Cohen collaborator, brings his taste for the comedy of discomfort to the rom-com realm in “I Give It a Year.” The jaundiced sentiment of the title hints at an inside-out reworking of the happily-ever-after formula. But instead of subversion, Mazer’s first outing as a feature director offers only a tweak of genre conventions. He does achieve an above-average share of laugh-out-loud moments — welcome compensation in a romp that grows more forced with every turn.
The promising first minutes make quick work of the picture-book wedding that usually consummates romantic comedies, and Mazer moves on to the more substantial stuff of marital disillusion. Mismatched Londoners Nat (Rose Byrne) and Josh (Rafe Spall) are struggling to make it to their first anniversary. She’s a posh marketing executive; he, in one of the movie’s least credible gambits, is a gormless layabout who’s also a published novelist.
Complicating temptation arrives in the form of potentially better better-halves: Josh’s humanitarian ex, Chloe (a drabbed-down Anna Faris), and Nat’s new client, a good-hearted guy (named Guy) who’s played by Simon Baker, stuck in first gear as the debonair ideal.
By turns thoughtful, awkward and lacking in chemistry, the movie ultimately sticks to the rom-com template without making the outcome matter. The funny bits — those that work and those that thud — mostly feel welded on to the story rather than fully integrated, especially Stephen Merchant’s shtick as Josh’s oversharing friend. The women fare best, with Byrne an adept comic performer and Minnie Driver in top form as Nat’s acid-tongued sister.
“I Give It a Year.” MPAA rating: R for sexual content, language and some nudity. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. Playing: At Laemmle’s Royal, West Los Angeles.