100 min., dir. by Nicholas Stoller, with Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, and Alison Brie
Ever since the Judd Apatow crew broke apart to work on their own projects, there have been quite a few good efforts. The teaming of Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller created what was probably the best non-Apatow directed movie with Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Together again as a writing team/director and actor team, Segel and Stoller have some big expectations hanging over them with The Five-Year Engagement. The film certainly does fall into some obvious trappings that come tied to relationship comedies, but it does have a slight experimental undertone that is a nice surprise amongst the silliness of a good comedy.
Tom (Segel) and Violet’s relationship is the definition of love. On the New Year’s Eve, exactly one year after they first met, Tom is ready to propose. It doesn’t go all that smoothly, but it doesn’t matter: Violent (Emily Blunt) wants nothing more than to be married to Tom. That is, of course, until she’s accepted into a teaching program for psychology in Michigan. Tom’s a chef, so he can easily pick up and find a job in Michigan with no problem. However, the move means they will have to hold off on their marriage plans. As you guessed, circumstances keep changing, forcing them to push the wedding, again and again. In the interim, many of their relatives die, other relatives get married, and Tom slips into a depressive slump. Will this long engagement end in misery or joy?
It doesn’t take a genius to know how it will end — it’s the journey getting there that we care about. The jokes are irreverent and wacky and really work well, but it’s the supporting cast that really drives the fun. Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, Brian Posehn, Chris Parnell, Rhys Ifans, Kevin Hart, Randall Park — there are too many to list. These are the people who make this movie go. Jason Segel and Emily Blunt are fine, but they are just set pieces allowing others to be funny.
The funniest thing about The Five-Year Engagement is how much it impressed me with some interesting plot and storytelling devices. First off, they don’t rely on a chintzy time-frame plan. While it’s obvious time has passed, it’s not focused on. There are no chapter headings saying, “Year One,” or anything similar. They decided not to treat the audience as a bunch of morons who can’t understand passages of time. More so, the film plays a little game with its viewers. Violet is studying being a psychologist; we watch her many times planning and performing experiments on others. The film sneakily puts on its own experiment, switching the traditional roles of men and women in relationships. Showing men in the Mr. Mom situation is not new, but it’s very subtle and plays to different themes in this film, and it was quite impressive.
The Five-Year Engagement is not rewriting the book of romantic comedies, but it’s delivering those needed laughs that can be considered low-brow, but in a deceptively smart manner. It’s a better film than I was expecting, and if you walk in trying to compare it Forgetting Sarah Marshall, you might be setting yourself up for disappointment — but it still will make you laugh.