Five Year Engagement, The (United States, 2012)April 27, 2012
The team behind The Five Year Engagement - producer Judd Apatow, director/co-writer Nicholas Stoller, and co-writer/star Jason Segel - is the same group responsible for Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Despite that, this movie feels less like the often raunchy, sometimes hilarious 2008 romantic comedy and more like 2010's Blue Valentine. The Five Year Engagement is being deceptively marketed as a comedy in the Bridesmaids vein. What it is, however, is an uncomfortable look at the difficulties of balancing a career and a relationship and what can happen when they get out of whack. It's the downside of a romantic comedy - what we don't see after the end credits roll.
There's value in that, of course, and the movie makes some cogent points. The problem is one of tone. The Five Year Engagement, despite its serious thesis, tries desperately to be funny. Some of the comedic material provokes laughter and some doesn't, but nearly all of it feels wrong. It's as if the jokes have been shoehorned into the movie because it was deemed too dramatic. It's a lot like the Apatow/Sandler misfire, Funny People, in that it never seems able to successfully integrate the comedy into the drama (or vice versa). There's also a lot of extraneous material that would have been better off left on the cutting room floor. The Five Year Engagement is too long by at least 20 minutes. By the end, five years seems to be a conservative estimate.
The movie begins with a proposal. Chef Tom (Segel) and psychologist Violet (Emily Blunt) have been dating for a year when he decides to pop the question. A period of delirious joy follows. Things are going well at work for Tom, who is in line for a promotion. Violet throws herself into planning the perfect wedding while waiting for a college professorial opening. Meanwhile, Tom's best friend, Alex (Chris Pratt), and Violet's sister, Suzie (Alison Brie), embark upon a whirlwind romance that ends with a trip down the aisle after a failure to use birth control. Then Violet's dream job offer arrives, except it's in Michigan not in the Bay Area. Tom agrees to turn down the promotion and re-locate to please Violet. But, while she's happy and flourishing in their new locale, he is not. He has trouble finding work and, as time passes, he becomes increasingly more listless. The longer the engagement is extended, the more likely it seems that it will end in a break-up.
There's nothing half-hearted about The Five Year Engagement. It has something to say about what can happen to couples when one half of the pair sacrifices disproportionately. At one point, Tom glibly comments that he would rather be the "one resenting" than the "one being resented" - words he ends up regretting. The Blue Valentine comparison is not as ludicrous as it might seem. Both movies are about how seemingly rock-solid relationships fall apart once beset by the pressures of everyday life. Certainly, Blue Valentine is more grim (bordering on unwatchable) than The Five Year Engagement, but this film is no two-hour joy ride. There are times when the level of discomfort is so acute that it becomes unpleasant to watch. And the awkward comedic interruptions do little to lighten matters. If anything, they have the opposite effect.
Jason Segel and Emily Blunt work well together. They have an easy, unforced chemistry. We believe them as the characters and root for them to work through their troubles. That's perhaps only to be expected, since this is the third time they have worked as an on-screen couple (following the delightful The Muppets and the not-so-delightful Gulliver's Travels, both of which were co-written by Stoller). Segel once again gets naked for Stoller although, on this occasion, he shows only his backside. Rhys Ifans and Alison Brie provide effective supporting work as Violet's boss at the university and her sister, respectively. Ifans has a nice little bit of physical comedy and Brie imitates one of the Muppets Blunt hasn't met.
Forewarned is forearmed. This is not an unqualified date movie home run. The humor is insufficiently buoyant to overcome a relentless sense of pessimism and, although it would be unfair to call The Five Year Engagement a complete downer, no one is going to coin this the "feel good romantic comedy of the spring." Apatow's movies have frequently been referred to as ribald, raunchy hilarity wrapped around a wonderfully sweet center. Here, there's still some sweetness, but it has been undercut by a bitter infusion, and the hilarity generates fewer laughs than his best endeavors.
Five Year Engagement, The (United States, 2012)
Cast: Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, Rhys Ifans, Dakota Johnson
Screenplay: Jason Segel & Nicholas Stoller
Cinematography: Michael Andrews
Music: Javier Aguirresarobe
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures