At the beginning of The Five-Year Engagement, Tom (Jason Segel) makes a complete hash of whisking away his girlfriend, Violet (Emily Blunt), so he can run through a carefully scheduled evening culminating in a marriage proposal. But when Violet realises what is about to transpire she insists that he continue with proceedings so she can knowingly enjoy the ritual.
Nicholas Stoller's film has much the same relationship with the romantic comedy genre: it already knows every twist and rule, but it still wants to go through with making one so it can knowingly enjoy the movie.
|Title||The Five-Year Engagement|
|Screenwriter||Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller|
|Actors||Emily Blunt, Jason Segel, Jacki Weaver|
|OFLC rating||MA 15+|
The Five-Year Engagement
The resulting picture, directed by Stoller (Get Him to the Greek), is decidedly more ambitious than the average romantic comedy, which has become a virtually codified form. It's longer in running time, structurally looser and takes in distinct emotional highs and lows.
In telling the story of two people who take so long to get married that they start to forget why they even wanted to in the first place, The Five-Year Engagement gets to the point where it finds more pleasure in the perverse and the pathetic.
Stoller and Segel's earlier collaboration, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, compressed the narrative into a week or two at a Hawaiian holiday resort, but this film adheres to the sprawling title. Once they're engaged, Tom and Violet - a chef and a psychology graduate - can't easily satisfy the demands of their far-flung families (Violet, like Blunt, is English) and when she's offered a promising job at a Michigan university, Tom quits his position at a San Francisco restaurant to accompany her east, leading them to postpone their wedding even as grandparents pass away and Tom's best friend, Alex (Chris Pratt), and Violet's sister, Suzie (Alison Brie), quickly marry and start a family.
Several times the movie sets up scenes familiar to romantic comedies, but then places other members of the cast in a position to facetiously comment on what is happening. It's as if Stoller and Segel's script is pre-empting the viewing experience, where corny moments attract wisecracks. There's a decided cleverness in doing that, but it also means that once the illusion is exposed it's awfully hard to suspend disbelief a second time when the story grows more serious.
But it's definitely enjoyable along the way, especially since the extensive cast is staffed by first-rate comics, including Mindy Kaling (The Office - US version) and Brian Posehn (The Sarah Silverman Program) as new friends in Chicago. You could easily make the case that Pratt (Parks and Recreation) and Brie (Community) deserve their own movie - they're a hilariously mismatched pairing as Alex and Suzie, and Pratt has a fully formed comic persona as an idiot who is deeply confident about his latest wrong decision.
Stoller and Segel are proteges of Judd Apatow and the Knocked Up director is a producer for The Five-Year Engagement. Like him they're trying to find a raucous, ill-mannered tone that plays realistically so that the parallel emotional content feels equally authentic. The dialogue is peppered with expletives and offensively funny lines, and alongside that there are long spells of disenchantment and career jealousy between Violet and Tom that culminates in a wrenchingly extended shouting match.
You can be reasonably sure Julia Roberts never made a romantic comedy in which the mother of the male lead began a speech by declaring to her son, ''F--- you, you dummy!'' but that's what Mimi Kennedy does here. However, the comically intemperate interruptions begin to grow quite repetitive by the movie's end and the writing never attaches any repercussions to these outbursts so that they're also unexpectedly illuminating.
The story tries to distil honesty from a well-worn set-up, but it's not that perceptive when it comes to what divides the errant couple. You also get the sense that everything is subtly weighted towards Segel's Tom, with the How I Met Your Mother star gravitating to the stay-at-home sad sack so that guilt weighs on Blunt's Violet. It's not fatal, if only because Blunt has a winning screen personality that doesn't feel forced even in the ropiest of scenes.
At one point the movie pauses just so Violet can watch a funny YouTube video featuring two supporting actors and that's the kind of diversion romantic comedies usually ruthlessly trim away. The Five-Year Engagement, however, tries to squeeze in every setback and laugh. It's messy and contrary and requires you to give ground - if nothing else it actually foretells the married life that comes after the happily-ever-after bit.
The Five-Year Engagement
Rated MA, 124 minutes, now showing
Stars Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Rhys Ifans, Mindy Kaling, Jacki Weaver