A film review by Craig J. Koban May 8, 2012


2011, R, 124 mins.


Jason Segal: Tom / Emily Blunt: Violet / Alison Brie: Suzie / Chris Pratt: Alex / Rhys Ifans: 


Directed by Nicholas Stoller / Written by Stoller and Jason Segal

THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT is a new romcom about a career-mined couple that are indeed hopelessly in love with one another and truly want to be wed as husband and wife for the rest of their lives.  

The problem, though, that they encounter is that they are forced – as a result of some thorny indirect and direct personal circumstances – to keep putting off the day of their nuptials to the point where, yup, several years do go by.  On many levels, the film establishes the unforeseen complications that many modern couples have when they try to balance love, work and a deep, burning desire to have a fruitful marriage.  It’s also quite perceptive when it comes to tapping into the fact that pre-wedding uncertainties and jitters can often be romantic kryptonite to young and idealistic lovers. 

The pair in question are played by the very winning and endlessly amiable pairing of Jason Segal (who co-wrote the film with director Nicholas Stoller, the third creative pairing of the two after FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL and THE MUPPETS) and Emily Blunt and I have long prescribed that romantic dramedies are only as good as the successfully paired and chemistry-heavy power of it two main stars.  You could not really ask for two more affable and enormously inviting stars in Segal and Blunt, who both play their roles with an understated charm, a dry wit, and a nuanced vulnerability.  Part of the small-scale triumph of THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT is that you truly want these two people to meet at the alter and exchange “I do’s’ at the culmination of the film.  For genre efforts like this, that’s half the creative battle. 

Segal plays Tom and Blunt plays Violet; during an early flashback scene we see them have a proverbial meet-cute at a costume party (Violet is a dead-ringer for Princess Diana).  For the most part, they are a happy and well adjusted San Franciscan couple with a promising future ahead of them: Tom is an accomplished chef on the brink of getting his own restaurant to oversee and Violet is a PhD Psychology graduate that is looking to get accepted at a University to continue her studies.  Ted bolsters up the courage to propose to Violet and she immediately accepts.  The inseparable duo seems destined for an obligatory happily-ever-after life together, but then fate steps in and dashes their plans. 

Firstly, Tom’s best friend Alex (a winning Chris Pratt, a long way from MONEYBALL) accidentally knocks up Violet’s sister Suzie (MAD MEN’s Alison Brie, infectiously snarky here) at Tom and Violet’s engagement party and they end up getting hitched first.  Things get worse when Violet receives a post-doctorate job acceptance letter…from Michigan…which is a far, far away from the Bay Area and is not a hot bed for prospective head chef jobs for Tom.  He, of course, unconditionally loves his wife-to-be, so he graciously agrees to leave his occupational dreams in San Francisco and move with her to a frigidly cold Michigan winterscape so that she can peruse her career ambitions.  Tom gets a bit sucker punched, though, when his boss tells him that he was to be promoted to head chef…that was, of course, if he stayed in California. 



Things snowball down even further for the couple.  Violet flourishes in her new surroundings, but her boss (played with great sly relish by Rhys Ifans) seems to have more than a professional eye for her.  Meanwhile, Tom hits rock bottom fairly quickly in his new hometown: when he can’t find work as a chef he takes a demeaning and soul-sucking job at a sandwich deli.  When he’s not squandering his talent there, Tom hooks up with a couple of locals (played humorously by Brian Posehn and Chris Parnell) who introduce Tom to deer hunting, growing disturbingly unkempt facial hair, and listlessly loafing around as all aimless slackers do.  Tom’s lack of career success and Violet’s increased career success begins to create great emotional riffs between them.  Then the sex stops.  Then the communication stops.  Old relatives begin to die as the wedding date gets pushed back. 

Pagin’ Dr. Phil. 

Again, the real highlight of THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT is its wholeheartedly disarming leads: Segal and Blunt are always credible as a couple in and out of love and the screenplay is atypically democratic when it comes to fleshing out both characters with tangible dimension.  Segal can play fragile, carefree, and congenial doofuses in his sleep.  Blunt, on the other hand, is a highly unique kind of triple-threat performer: she’s limitlessly gorgeous and photogenic (she just glows in this film) and is able to traverse between broad comedy and soulful drama with relative ease.  Not many screen actresses can effectively look luminous, behave in a wantonly silly manner in preposterous scenes to get a laugh, and come off as touchingly sincere as Blunt does here. 

THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT follows the increasingly used Apatowian romcom formula of morphing R-rated raunch and sweet sentimentality to largely fine effect.  The film manages to find some high moments of hilarity in the most diverse ways.  There are some incredulous, but uproarious sight gags involving everything from an accidentally crossbow bolt (it’s not an arrow!) discharge, a deer carcass that Tom fails to secure properly on his car roof, a faked male orgasm, a severed finger, and a precisely timed jump cup to a funeral that gets a large chuckle.  Beyond that, the dialogue in the film is fresh, off-kiltered, and has an oddball appeal, especially in one riotously absurd moment when Violet and Suzie – while in front of the latter’s young child – have an argument using the voices of Elmo and the Cookie Monster.  The film’s best scene is both keenly observant and funny, during which a pillow-talk argument between Violet and Tom shows how men and women often come across as speaking alien languages to one another.  “Don’t you understand,” Tom pitifully pleads with Violet while in bed, “that I just want to be alone with you.  Don’t leave.” 

For as much as I liked Blunt and Segal together on screen and for as much as I laughed throughout THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT, the film is riddled with some nagging problems.  At two-plus hours, the running time is bloated, self-indulgent, and contains far too much extraneous material that would have made the cutting room floor on other similar films (a 90-100 minute running time would have streamlined the film far better).  Oftentimes, and largely because of its excessive running time, the film feels uneven; there are some scenes that seem to shift confidently into drive and then peeter into neutral the longer they progress and appear to strain for a punch line.  For as smart as Stoller and Segal are as screenwriters, they let contrivances and predictabilities of the their script get the better of the film.  The film devolves into standard-order couple miscommunication, then misunderstandings, then break-up, then mutual forgiveness, and then finally a tidy feel-good conclusion.   

I guess for talent like Stoller and Segal at the creative helm, perhaps I expected more out of THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT.  This romcom is lively, engaging, has moments of joviality and brevity, has two stars that are imminently agreeable, but it ultimately becomes too mechanically and formulaically rendered as it progresses.  And at 124 minutes, I felt more exhausted than elated as I exited the theater, which is a no-no as far as romcoms are concerned.

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