Nicholas Barber on I Give It a Year and Warm Bodies

Not much rom and very little com. What this needs is bit of zom…

Nicholas Barber
Sunday 10 February 2013 01:00
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Dance partners: Rafe Spall, left, and Stephen Merchant play best friends in I Give It a Year
Dance partners: Rafe Spall, left, and Stephen Merchant play best friends in I Give It a Year

The publicity for Working Title's new comedy name-checks Richard Curtis's films, but anyone fooled into expecting a twinkly romance from I Give It a Year may end up asking their local cinema for a refund. The film's entire quota of sweetness and light is expended in an opening montage which shows how Rose Byrne's ambitious advertising executive got together with Rafe Spall's oafish author. From then on, the happy couple is anything but. When they're not bickering, Byrne is being tempted by a wealthy American client, Simon Baker, and Spall is mooning over an ex-girlfriend, Anna Faris.

I Give It a Year was written and directed by Dan Mazer, one of Sacha Baron Cohen's collaborators, but if you had to guess, you might think it was the work of Stephen Merchant, who plays Spall's appalling best friend. Mazer uses the same comedy of tactlessness and humiliation which has been Merchant's stock in trade since The Office – and at times he uses it superbly. There are two or three big laughs and quite a few small ones scattered through the film. The snag is that it's a bit like The Office would have been if every character were as awful as David Brent and Gareth, and if Tim and Dawn had been written out. The leading men are monsters of prattishness, the leading women spiteful shrews, and the supporting cast takes obnoxiousness to lunatic new heights. Ultimately, the mood is so depressingly sour that you might want to follow up with a film directed by Todd Solondz or Lars von Trier, just to make yourself feel better about the human race.

For some genuine positivity, try Warm Bodies, the most endearing film you'll ever see in which the hero munches the brains of the heroine's boyfriend. Nicholas Hoult stars as a young zombie who shuffles around the ruins of a post-apocalyptic American city. The joke is that while he can't communicate in anything but grunts, we can hear his neurotic thoughts. "Sure, I eat people," he thinks to himself, "but at least I feel conflicted about it." His thoughts become even more neurotic when he bumps into the winsome Teresa Palmer, one of the city's last surviving humans, and the daughter of the military commander, John Malkovich. Hoult hides her away from his fellow zombie flesh-eaters, and their time together is a perfect parody of an awkward, inarticulate teenage courtship. "Don't be creepy," Hoult tells himself as he staggers towards the object of his affections, understandably self-conscious about his groaning speech, his pallid skin, and the knife-wound in his chest.

Warm Bodies is a very funny and tender zom-rom-com which nonetheless treats its grisly premise with due awe and seriousness. It also confirms that Hoult (About a Boy, Skins) is a fast-rising star. He can speak in a flawless American accent, but even when he's groaning he can convey enough with his startled eyes to make us hope that he'll win Palmer's heart, and not just eat it.

Next Week

Nicholas Barber moves on from zombie romance to witch romance with Beautiful Creatures

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