The idea of beginning a romantic comedy at the moment where most others end is a potentially intriguing and promising one. What happens after the meet-cute, the courtship, the third-act conflict and ultimate reunion that leaves our happy couple smiling and in love?
If The Five Year Engagement is any indication, what happens next is a slow slog peppered with rom-com conventions, supporting characters who often outshine the leads, and enough laughs to sustain a far shorter movie.
When we first meet Tom (Jason Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt) they themselves have already met, fallen in love and decided to spend the rest of their lives together. He has a great job as a chef in San Francisco, she’s awaiting an offer from UC Berkeley, and their future together looks bright. Until it doesn’t. Berkeley passes, but a school in Michigan offers her a two-year position so Tom gives up his job and the loving couple move east where she blossoms and he begins to fall apart. The wedding day gets pushed back again and again as Tom and Violet struggle to rediscover what brought them together in the first place.
The Five-Year Engagement comes from the team of Segel and Nicholas Stoller who previously birthed Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Like that film, their latest creation is a romantic comedy that allows its characters to descend to some dark and depressing depths while dealing with broken hearts, career ennui and love. The difference though is that FSM is a noticeably shorter, funnier and less forced experience.
Violet does well in Michigan and her two-year stint is extended, but while she’s been growing amidst her co-workers, boss (Rhys Ifans) and psych experiments involving stale donuts and depression Tom has been slowly dying inside. He loses perspective on his own life and career to the point that he grows mutton chops and takes up hunting with a crossbow (and Chris Parnell). They begin to drift apart, unable to communicate properly with each other, and the last straw may just be a drunken act of infidelity that the other is unable to forgive.
There’s nothing wrong with mixing heartfelt drama and laughs into a darkly comedic confection, but that tone requires a delicate balance between the two. At over two hours the film never quite nails that balance, and instead we’re left with scenes of heartache paired with Ifans’ stunt double parkouring his way through an alley. It’s jarring and occurs too frequently for any real emotion to have time to settle over viewers. The film drags on mixing genre conventions and legitimate laughs with frustrations and Segel in sad-sack face. It just never congeals to a point that allows viewers to simply go along for the ride.
The bright spot here, aside from Blunt who finally gets the leading role she’s deserved, is a supporting cast of comedy all-stars including half of NBC’s Thursday night roster. 30 Rock‘s Parnell is joined by Community‘s Alison Brie, Parks & Rec‘s Chris Pratt, and The Office‘s Mindy Kaling. The four of them offer up many of the film’s best laughs with Pratt and Brie in particular bringing the funny in almost every one of their scenes.
Producer Judd Apatow, he of the consistently overlong run-times, has a new film due out this summer that takes the supporting couple from his own Knocked Up and gives them their own movie. With any luck Brie and Pratt’s characters may get the same treatment.
Segel’s performance gets by with the best Jason Segel impression of his career, but Blunt steps up her game with perfect comedic timing, a fragility you’ll want to comfort in your arms, and a proclivity for endearingly goofy facial expressions that are enough to make a Bay Area movie blogger hang up his keyboard and move to Michigan. She remains the heart of the film while Segel’s character suffers his overly dramatic bout with depression, but it’s a hard sell when jumbled in with crossbow bolt hijinks, a tired gag about a twenty-something’s tireless appetite for sex, and Segel’s bare ass. Still, the two work well together during the film’s lighter, sweeter and more romantic scenes.
The Five-Year Engagement is a fun, intelligent 100-minute rom-com trapped in a two hour rough cut. Fans of the actors involved will probably want to give it a chance, but be sure to bring water as it’s a long trek to the end credits.
The Upside: Emily Blunt shines; the cast of NBC’s Thursday night line-up provide the bulk of the film’s laughs; the ‘Elmo vs Cookie Monster argument’ is one of the year’s best scenes; makes good use of San Francisco setting
The Downside: Overly long run time and it feels it; stretches of bleakness and cliches where the laughs fall flat; tonal issues; excessive Jason Segel ass shots
On the Side: The assembly (aka workprint) cut of the film was reportedly three hours and forty five minutes long. Bullet… dodged.