Title: The Five-Year Engagement
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Starring: Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Rhys Ifans, Alison Brie, Chris Pratt, Jacki Weaver, Kevin Hart, Mindy Kaling, Chris Parnell, David Paymer, Mimi Kennedy, Brian Posehn, Randall Park, Dakota Johnson
Writer-director Nicholas Stoller and co-writer/star Jason Segel located plenty of comedy in masculine doubt and the difficulty in climbing back up on the romantic saddle in their winning 2008 collaboration, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” A through line of thematic follow-up can be traced to their new work, “The Five-Year Engagement,” a comedy that attempts to chart the turbulent, churned-up period of personal development and possibly divergent professional paths between a young bethrothed couple’s pledge for marriage and eventual trip down the aisle. Alas, plenty of recognizable and game supporting players can’t save this bloated, hit-and-miss affair, which possesses the same basic nougaty center of ribaldry and sentimentality in which producer Judd Apatow specializes, but falls victim to a sagging hour-plus in its middle, as well as an ending which feels more the product of test-marketing approval than genuine romantic rallying.
After having met cute at costume party one year earlier, San Francisco sous chef Tom Solomon (Segel) pops the question to his girlfriend, grad student Violet Barnes (Emily Blunt), who happily accepts. At the party celebrating their engagement, Violet’s sister Suzie (Alison Brie) hooks up with Tom’s friend and colleague Alex (Chris Pratt), and later gets pregnant by him. That this odd-couple pair beats the career-minded duo to the altar is but the first of a string of hindrances for Tom and Violet.
When she’s accepted to the University of Michigan, Tom follows Violet to snowy Ann Arbor, where he feels out of place and is unable to get a job anywhere commensurate with his skill level. As Violet forges bonds with her fellow students and rakish advising professor, Winton Childs (Rhys Ifans), Tom works his way into a funk, and seems to regress into a state of resentment and caveman-ish apathy. After several years of postponing the wedding, to pay down other debts and keep other possibilities open and alive, Tom and Violet are faced with splitting up, and the realization that perhaps they’re not meant for one another.
Reputedly born, much like its predecessor, of Segel’s real-life relationship with “Freaks and Geeks” costar Linda Cardellini, “The Five-Year Engagement” engenders lots of good will for the many things it does right — namely, at least aim at a target a bit higher and off-center from the normal, unchallenging objective of so many romantic comedies. Yet for every bit of inspired lunacy (Alex’s public forum ode to Tom’s exes, set to the tune of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”), there are two or three unnecessary asides or outright misfires (Violet’s niece shooting her in the leg with an arrow, and a scene in which two of Violet’s coworkers icily toast everyone but one another) that sap the film of any momentum.
Both Segel and especially Blunt can be charming performers, and they’re not a bad match here, per se. But neither are they given material which demonstrates a genuine fusing (or are they able to conjure and fake the same), and so Tom and Violet’s plight feels both less real and less funny than that of Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston’s characters in “The Break-Up,” another movie which “The Five-Year Engagement” clearly wishes to emulate. It’s not merely that Stoller’s film is long (clocking in at just over two hours), it’s that so much of its time is misappropriated; plot threads with Tom’s parents (David Paymer and Mimi Kennedy) and Violet’s mother (Jacki Weaver) could be jettisoned entirely, with that time freed up to examine in greater interesting detail Tom’s emotional waywardness. “The Five-Year Engagement” flirts with ideas both substantive and radical, and is likely – in its own easy, shambling way — to satisfy a certain baseline entertainment quotient for forgiving general audiences. But it fades upon contact, when the snapshot of such a relationship could and should have left a much more indelible mark.
Written by: Brent Simon