Thursday Movie Club

I Give It a Year

Reviewed by Sandra Hall

I Give It a Year was written and directed by Dan Mazer, an expert in foot-in-mouth humour. How could he not be? He collaborated with Sacha Baron Cohen on Borat, Bruno and Da Ali G Show.

Now he's creating mayhem in a new genre – the romantic comedy. The film's opening montage of happy moments climaxes with a wedding, upon which things rapidly slide into doubt and confusion. A coughing fit almost chokes the vicar before he can pronounce the couple man and wife. Then comes the reception with a full menu of cringe-worthy speeches. The heavy thud of their faux pas has barely faded when the groom is lured into performing an excruciating rap number with lyrics arranged around the words ''bitches'' and ''hos''.


The initiator is pop-eyed British comic Stephen Merchant, someone else who's well versed in the art of inappropriateness. He first became notorious as Ricky Gervais's confederate in the TV series Extras, and here he's the groom's best man and the bride's worst nightmare.

Josh, the groom (Rafe Spall), is a writer struggling with his second novel while his wife, Nat (Rose Byrne), is supposed to be a highly organised account executive in an advertising agency, although her management skills aren't exactly highlighted. We tend to look in on her when her working hours are being eroded by the increasingly rackety nature of her personal life. But she does earn enough to keep her and Josh in what looks to be a mansion flat in Knightsbridge.

There are many impediments to their hopes for marital bliss. Her snooty parents can't stand him, his happy-go-lucky parents irritate her. Her forthright sister (Minnie Driver) has given the marriage a year. Not that her own is in great shape. The zestiness of the bickering that she enjoys with her husband (Jason Flemyng) is the only thing that keeps their union alive.

Marriage gets bad press all round. Even the counsellor (Olivia Colman) the couple resort to in the film's first 15 minutes has had enough, judging from the explosive telephone conversation that punctuates their session with her. It's one of many scenes that play like comedy sketches hastily stitched into the fabric of the plot, but there is a narrative of sorts.

It picks up the pace with the arrival of Simon Baker. He is Nat's new client, Guy, a wealthy American businessman whose poise, drive and suave good looks would make Josh's jokes and dance moves seem even clunkier, should such a thing be possible.

Josh, however, doesn't care nearly as much as he ought to. He has reconnected with his former girlfriend Chloe, played by American comic Anna Faris, who can also be seen in the coprophilia segment in Movie 43, if you're interested. She's often to be found playing dumb and not so dumb blondes, but here the blonde has been toned down to mousey brown in line with her dun-coloured wardrobe of droopy garments. As an aid worker newly returned from Africa, she's not into fashion, as various characters keep tactfully reminding her. But these gratuitous barbs are not nearly as humiliating as the scene that has her gamely battling on as the odd one out in a threesome after her new boyfriend invites the office sexpot into bed with them.

The film's most novel feature lies in the fact that it subverts the usual relationship between British and Australian stereotypes. Its buffoons are Brits, while two Aussies, Baker and Byrne, are cast as its sophisticates. Admittedly, they're not playing Australian. And they're not all that sophisticated. He, for example, hits on the daft idea of wooing her with a violinist and a pair of white doves, a scene that swiftly degenerates into a pastiche of The Birds.

Byrne was offered the role after Mazer saw her straight-faced turn as the bitch in Bridesmaids, and she again does well as a comic foil. In fact, she does so well with her deadpan put-downs and looks of open-mouthed wonder that she's ready to perpetrate her own line in gaffes and gags instead of merely taking care of the reaction shots.

Spall is less impressive. You need Hugh Grant's timing to bring off the kind of silliness to which he has been assigned and he just hasn't got it. Nor can he manage the segues between silliness and sincerity that he needs to negotiate if we're to barrack for him no matter what. As a romantic, he comes across as a self-centred prat.

Mazer's own timing is sharper. At least it is sometimes. It looks as if he's trying for a combination of Richard Curtis and Judd Apatow, spiced with a mild form of the bawdiness that he has been serving up with Sacha Baron Cohen. There are wild fluctuations in tone, and you can never escape the thought he's more interested in the gag than the character delivering it. It's all good fun but it isn't great comedy.

Side Effects (click through to view trailer)

Reviewed by Craig Mathieson

"Depression is the inability to construct a future,'' you're told early on in Side Effects, Steven Soderbergh's concisely appealing new psychological thriller. With confirmation that at the age of 50 he's now retiring from directing, cinema-goers should be saddened that Soderbergh has drawn the curtain on his own cinematic future. Over the past quarter of a century, no other American director has been as prolific or inventive - even his failures have been fascinating - and his farewell thankfully proves to be juicily enjoyable.

In recent years, with a self-imposed deadline looming, Soderbergh has almost been ticking off the genres he wanted to subvert. He found scientific heroics amid a chillingly realised end-of-the-world tale for Contagion, before putting a brutally capable woman at the centre of his action flick Haywire. Now Side Effects is his take on the glossy legal mystery, where trust can only result in deception.

The basics of the plot are familiar, but Soderbergh only bows to expectation in the final scenes. Rooney Mara plays Emily, a working New York wife whose anxiety about the release from jail of her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), leads her into depression and self-harm. Coming under the care of psychiatrist Dr Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), she begins medication regimens and therapy, with increasingly uneven results.

Side Effects manages to mention more anti-depressant brands (some fictional) than even Silver Linings Playbook does. In the film's rumbling, uneasy New York, everyone has a favourite pill and different brands inspire customer loyalty. ''I had better luck with Celexa,'' Emily's boss tells her, and side effects are just treated with further medication. Soderbergh makes prescription culture the norm, so its corruption couldn't be more casual or complete.

Marshalling a handful of favoured writers, Soderbergh has been one of the few Hollywood filmmakers interested in the state of contemporary America. Films such as The Girlfriend Experience and 2012's Magic Mike were about individuals who could no longer sell part of themselves to get ahead, and the woozy aftermath of the global financial crisis hangs over Side Effects, with Martin's four years of incarceration stemming from Wall Street insider trading.

When Emily remembers her pampered life with Martin before his arrest, her disquieting memories have the same glossy tone and calmly unreal air as the adverts for the products available to take. Once something goes terribly wrong, despite the efforts of Jonathan and Emily's previous psychiatrist, Dr Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the question of where the blame lies isn't half as interesting as how Soderbergh - as ever operating the camera under the pseudonym Peter Andrews - distorts the character's viewpoints.

From the opening shot's resemblance to Psycho, there are nods to Alfred Hitchcock, but, unlike Hitchcock - or his most dedicated student, Brian de Palma - there's no use for icy blondes here. Mara is slight, but with a thick voice, as if she hasn't completely put aside the formidable Lisbeth Salander from David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake, and her peculiar talent is a fierce wariness that makes the camera instinctively seek her out.

When the broad-shouldered Tatum hugs Mara, he almost envelops her, and control takes on a variety of forms in Side Effects. As ulterior motives are pursued and a conspiracy theorised, the strength of the medication is challenged by timeless forces, such as blackmail and the will to survive.

Jonathan's professional veneer wilts once he's under pressure, and an obsession with finding the truth makes him as unstable as Emily first appeared to be. When the psychiatrist tries a tactic seemingly pulled straight from the reservoir of past Hollywood thriller plots, Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns make sure it doesn't save the day, leaving them free to use an even more familiar gambit later on without arousing your suspicion. Those are the self-aware games Soderbergh plays as a filmmaker nearing the end of his tenure, but he nonetheless puts a great deal of his recurring interests - particularly the importance of maintaining a hold over your own life - into what could have been an Identikit thriller.

Soderbergh wants to paint, and perhaps dabble in episodic television, although, like other storytellers intrinsically tied to American culture who stepped away, such as Jay-Z, there's a good chance he'll be back. Until then, this is a very good finale to what has been a magnificent run. It's hard not to take pleasure in a filmmaker so astutely in control of his art, even as he steps back in a way none of the characters in this movie can.