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Posts Tagged ‘Anna Faris’

Ingredients for British romantic comedy film with a marital theme:

  • Useless vicar performing wedding ceremony
  • Terrible best man giving faux pas-strewn speech at the reception
  • Affluent lifestyle of easy, aspirational upward-mobility for lead characters so target audience will identify with them
  • Kooky alternative lifestyle for supporting character so as not to repel alternative kooks amongst the potential audience
  • Incredible filthy rich lifestyle for another supporting character so the producers don’t feel completely out of their comfort zone
  • Imported foreign female stars to ensure a decent release in overseas territories
  • Soundtrack of ubiquitous pop and soft-rock songs to create comfortingly familiar atmosphere
  • Cameo roles from well-known comedy faces (people off the TV will do in a pinch)
  • Judicious amount of sauce

Honestly, this scriptwriting thing’s a doddle – I hadn’t decided what to do for this year’s ScriptFrenzy (it was going to be a toss-up between a dinosaur Western called Flesh and a screwball comedy martial arts action film for Jason Statham called Transporting Baby) but I think I’ll just do a rom-com, they’re such a sure thing at the box office that I suspect production companies don’t really look at the recipe, just the ingredients. I should be able to sneak a slightly dodgy script past them, no problem.

At least this is the impression I was left with after watching Dan Mazer’s I Give It A Year, which, if it isn’t a rom-com, is certainly well-disguised as one. I have to say this is a slightly tricky film to review in-depth without spoiling the plot, but here goes anyway. Suffice to say that it appears to have been released specifically to cash in on the Valentine’s Day date-night audience, which is a little surprising given the general tenor of the thing.

igiay

Anyway, Rafe Spall plays Josh, a writer, who as the film starts is getting married to Nat, an advertising executive played by Rose Byrne (sigh), after a fairly whirlwind romance. Needless to say the course of married life does not run smooth, as it turns out they don’t know each other nearly as well as they thought. Also problematic is the fact that Josh’s old girlfriend (Anna Faris) is still on the scene, clearly nursing feelings for him, while Nat’s work brings her into contact with a wealthy American hunk (Simon Baker) to whom she finds herself instantly attracted.  Will the course of true love run smooth?

Of course, this sort of begs many questions concerning what exactly true love is, how you know when you’ve met The One, does the idea of ‘The One’ even make sense, and what degree of friction and not-getting-on is to be expected in any marriage, successful or not. These are important and interesting questions which most people, as grown-ups, will probably find themselves addressing at some point in their lives, and as such there’s scope here for an intelligent and witty film.

However, while I Give It A Year adheres quite rigorously to the ingredient list already mentioned – there are no fewer than three imported stars, and my cinema ticket came with a voucher giving me a discount if I bought the soundtrack – it’d really be stretching a point to describe it as strikingly intelligent, witty, or even particularly grown-up. Which isn’t to say it’s not intermittently quite funny, but that sauce of various kinds comprises a greater percentage of the overall dish than in, for example, a Richard Curtis movie (I’m sorry, I’m getting sick of this cookery metaphor too). A lot of the humour is quite coarse and crude – this is ultimately a comedy of manners, but most of the actual jokes are derived from social awkwardness and embarrassment, and in order to generate this Mazer has come up with a bunch of characters who are in no way believable as real human beings.

As a result, despite good performances from the central cast, the story as a whole never really convinces, nor is the main throughline especially funny. The film has a slightly odd structure, almost like a collection of comedy sketches, in which supporting characters will come in and do one or two (often very funny) scenes before we’re back to Spall and Byrne again. For example, Olivia Colman has a cameo as a nightmarish marriage counsellor, while there’s another bit where an attempted threesome becomes unexpectedly competitive.

But probably the biggest issue I had with this film is the way that it… well, look, this might be considered a Spoiler, so continue at your own risk. What starts off as a filthed-up copy of a Richard Curtis movie ultimately transforms into a rather odd parody of one, with all the cliches – the climactic dash, the triumphant declaration of passion – guyed and repurposed. It is, if you will, the film’s secret ingredient (though a bit less secret now you’ve read this, come to think of it). The problem is that those cliches are there for a reason, they’re part of a functioning story structure. Kicking that structure apart, as Mazer cheerfully does in the final act of the movie, risks alienating the audience, or at least confusing them. It’s not that the ending is parachuted in from nowhere, just that it runs contrary to one’s fundamental expectations of this kind of film – it’s like a detective story where the criminal is never caught, or a disaster movie where everybody dies.

So, it has some funny bits in it, but it’s not as consistently hilarious as its own advertising makes it appear. Neither is I Give It A Year quite the standard Working Title rom-com that it might seem to be – but, oddly enough, this is as much a problem with the film as it is a point of distinction.  Rose Byrne remains as reliably beautiful as ever, though.

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Now, I’ve nothing against low-budget genre movies, especially British ones, and I’m always prepared to give one a chance. But the sad fact remains that sitting down to watch one is on some level the equivalent of loading a single bullet into your revolver, spinning the chamber and putting the barrel to your forehead. If it’s meant to be a comedy, you may as well stick a few more bullets in there from the start.

Possibly I am exaggerating – watching a bad movie is not quite the same thing as suicide, although particularly grim ones might lead one to momentarily contemplate it. Nevertheless this is the kind of unpromising terrain which we enter when we consider Gareth Carrivick’s 2009 low-budget British SF comedy Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel. Many of the films of this type seem to have been made with one eye on Shaun of the Dead, but the shadow of Wright and Pegg’s classic hangs over this film more than most.

Chris O’Dowd plays Ray, Dean Lennox Kelly plays Greg, and Marc Wootton plays Toby, three friends who work at a theme park. Ray and Toby are geeks, Greg is a lad. One night they go down the pub where they bicker as usual – but when Ray goes to the bar he meets Cassie (Anna Faris), a woman claiming to be a time traveller from the future, who expresses delight at meeting someone as destined to be famous as Ray one day will be.

He is cynical, to say nothing of his friends’ reaction when he returns to them and reports what has happened. However, things take a decidedly peculiar turn when Greg discovers a hole in the space-time continuum located in the pub toilets: every time they go into the gents, they emerge at a different point in history. Can they get back to their point of origin before a significant juncture in the web of destiny known as Last Orders?

If Shaun of the Dead is a George Romero movie set in the London suburbs, Attack the Block is an alien invasion horror film set on a sink estate, and Storage 24 is Alien in a self-storage warehouse, then Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel is… well, one thing you have to say for this film is that it is original in cinematic terms. The time-travel plot is impressively convoluted and recursive and, up to a point, holds together pretty well, and if I was going to indulge in a lazy comparison – oh, go on, indulge me – I’d say it was an attempt at a comedy version of Primeval set in a pub toilet.

This is obviously a very low-budget movie and this appears to have constrained the production accordingly – the vast majority of it occurs on the same handful of sets and your actual proper visual effects are used very sparingly indeed (probably just as well, as the CGI used in a couple of places is frankly dodgy). This does seem to have spurred the creativity of the film-makers, although they do seem to have fallen into the trap of trying to make three films at the same time – this doesn’t just want to be a SF romp, there are moments aspiring to be proper drama and a somewhat putrid rom-com element too.

Nevertheless, once the time travel stuff got going the story was inventive and pacy enough to keep me interested – this was quite an achievement given the depths of appalled horror the opening sequence instilled in me, for it genuinely led me to anticipate another disaster on the scale of Lesbian Vampire Killers or Sex Lives of the Potato Men. It opens with a main character acting like a moronic tool for no reason other than to facilitate a deeply unfunny gag, then goes on to introduce us to three mates who – based on their personalities and interests – appear to have no reason to be actual friends.

We see them coming out of a cinema, whereupon one of them cries ‘That was a shit movie!’ – at which point I thought the whole undertaking was displaying a dangerous lack of self-awareness. There follows a section where the film appears to attempt to establish its SF credentials – or, to put it another way, suck up to the fanboy audience. There are pat references to Doctor Who, Firefly, role-playing games and so on, but it all feels a bit crowbarred in rather than genuinely felt – and the presence of Greg, who cheerfully mocks all of these things, just suggests the film is trying to cover its bets by appealing to the geek and mundane audiences simultaneously.

I’m not sure either of them will have really enjoyed this film; I thought it was okay but certainly no better than that. There are a handful of reasonable jokes and the performances of the leads are decent (bussed-in American and expat Canadian stars Faris and Meredith MacNeill are a bit more variable), but the internal logic of the story is never quite as rigorous as it really needs to be. The originality and resourcefulness of the time travel plotline makes this film worth watching if you like that sort of thing, but there’s not much else here for a more mainstream audience.

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