Posted on Monday, April 30th, 2012 by Angie Han
How you feel about Nicholas Stoller‘s The Five-Year Engagement may depend on what you’re expecting. Those looking for another instant classic from producer Judd Apatow and his circle will likely be disappointed, as the new comedy proves too inconsistent to hold up against the likes of The 40-Year-Old Virgin or even Stoller’s own Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Those simply hoping for a pleasant romantic comedy with likable stars, however, will probably find that The Five-Year Engagement surpasses those standards thanks to a seriously charming lead couple (Jason Segel and Emily Blunt), and a handful of very funny gags.
The last time Stoller and Segel teamed up, Segel dropped trou at the start of the movie for one of the most humiliating breakup scenes of all time. The Five-Year Engagement begins in a much happier place, as Tom (Segel) successfully proposes to his live-in girlfriend Violet (Blunt). The complications start afterward, when Violet lands a new job at the University of Michigan that forces the couple to pack up and move from San Francisco to Ann Arbor. They push back the wedding until after the move, and then until after they work out their troubles, and so on for, oh, about five years. Meanwhile, the change in scenery proves beneficial for Violet, who thrives in her career, but less so for Tom, who finds his own stalled.
The basic premise has the potential to go in about a thousand different directions, from featherweight romcom to heavy drama. The Five-Year Engagement tries to be too many of those disparate notes, and consequently feels lumpy and uneven. Stoller’s no stranger to mixing tones; his Forgetting Sarah Marshall combined genuine pathos, R-rated laughs, and sweet romance to very entertaining effect. But something about his game here is off. Certain scenes feel as though they’ve been spliced in from a much darker comedy (at least two digits are lost over the course of this movie) or a much stranger one (Tom’s new hunting hobby results in some bizarre housewares), while others could be dropped into Garry Marshall‘s next holiday-themed ensemble piece without a hitch.
The narrative suffers from a similar lack of focus. While there is an overarching plotline tying the pieces together, the film makes countless detours along the way to watch Tom don some truly hideous handmade sweaters, or Violet get shot in the leg by a crossbow. I’m all for relaxed pacing, but The Five-Year Engagement‘s sloppy tangents made it feel even longer than its 124-minute runtime. Too scenes many feel like setups for punchlines that never come, or punchlines to setups we never saw. Why bother showing showing two heterosexual characters of opposite genders declare their abiding hatred for one another if they’re not going to end up sleeping together? Or failing that, at least mentioning it again at some point?
And yet, in spite of all of these significant flaws, the movie ultimately won me over. Tom and Violet are just so gosh-darned likable, both individually and as a pair, that I couldn’t help but root for them to be happy. The couple’s bond rings true not just because of the warm, lived-in chemistry between Segel and Blunt, but also because Segel and Stoller’s script wisely avoids taking sides or prioritizing one half over the other. The Five-Year Engagement isn’t especially deep, but it is refreshingly mature about the give and take of a long-term relationship.
Another treat is the excellent (if somewhat underused) supporting cast. Rhys Ifans, Mindy Kaling, Kevin Hart, and Randall Park are just weird enough as Violet’s psych department colleagues, who devise some truly disturbing experiment ideas, while Brian Posehn and Chris Parnell get increasingly odder and funnier as Tom’s new friends. But the standouts are the high-strung Alison Brie and the goofy, slightly skeezy Chris Pratt as the movie’s second-banana couple. They draw some of the movie’s biggest laughs, and I found myself wishing for a spinoff centered just around them. Actually, considering that Forgetting Sarah Marshall begat Get Him to the Greek and Knocked Up led to This is Forty, that hope probably isn’t so farfetched.
Between the winning characters and clever jokes, it’s clear that the ingredients for a much better movie are here — they’re just buried under thirty minutes of extra padding. But even so, The Five-Year Engagement has enough more humor and warmth to make for a perfectly reasonable option for fluffy entertainment. When the big emotional climax rolled around, I even found myself tearing up a tiny bit. I can’t think of a better indication that a romantic comedy is working as it should.
/Film rating: 6.5 out of 10.0