The Five-Year Engagement
Directed by: Nicholas Stoller
Cast: Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Rhys Ifans, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, Jacki Weaver
Running Time: 2 hrs 4 mins
Release Date: April 27, 2012
PLOT: After a year of dating, Tom (Segel) and Violet (Blunt) decide to get married. Once Violet gets accepted to graduate school at University of Michigan, their plans for the ultimate wedding are put on further notice.
WHO’S IT FOR? Guys, this isn’t an “engagement” you’ll want to put off for as long as possible (like ol’ Turtle did last week in Think Like a Man). This one still maintains the special quality of frat humor seen in previous Apatow maturity movies like Knocked Up. At the same time, the relationship of Blunt & Segel balances the movie out to offer material that’s more “for the ladies,” if you’re going to force me to use crude demographics. Both genders, however, will certainly feel like they’ve been trapped in this one for a long time, as this movie might as well be three hours.
EXPECTATIONS: How could a movie co-written and co-starring Jason Segel, appearing with Emily Blunt, and produced by Judd Apatow, go wrong? Considering Apatow’s track record of finding the funny in serious life events, I expected this one to offer some fairly dramatic statements about the endurance of relationships, while also showing us Jason Segel’s butt at the same time.
Jason Segel as Tom Solomon: Ever the softie big bear who stumbles over words as much as he does actual things, Segel provides a great amount of the movie’s physical humor, taking part in the movie’s wackier jokes. When Violet is working, Segel shares the dilemma of his character of trying to find something to do to keep himself useful in the larger scheme of things. A whole fascination with hunting pushes the believability of his sanity, and feels like its going for exaggerated humor. Still, Segel shines best when he’s trying to play the kind of guy that most men are comfortable being, especially since most women seem to love him.
Emily Blunt as Violet Barnes: Blunt isn’t given the most vibrant of female characters, but she shows that she can handle daffy humor just as much as the emotional moments (the latter being what probably got her the job). Her comedic requirements feel limited. Because she is paired with slapstick prone Segel, she is thrown into her own episodes as physical humor, but such jokes are forgotten about before the scene is even over (as with an episode involving a car door).
Rhys Ifans as Winton Childs: On the outside, he’s nearly unrecognizable out of the “dirty rocker” looks that he usually embodies so naturally. Yet on the inside, Ifans maintains that same ugliness, as he’s used here to provide some difficult thoughts about the very frank “caveman” instincts within men, especially when someone like Emily Blunt is involved. Without saying too much, let’s just say that Segel clearly has a problem with popular European men, as this is another eccentric chum with an accent who “challenges” Segel’s likable character.
Rest of Cast: Utilized more directly to speak to both genders in the audience are Chris Pratt and Alison Brie, who both offer memorable supportive performances as exaggerated men and women who can’t control their actions. Pratt is unrelentingly crude, and Brie is comically emotional (both of which are evidenced by their crowd-pleasing engagement party speeches). And it’s a small giggly victory for anyone who loved Animal Kingdom to see Jacki Weaver here, this time with a frank and vulgar personality. Actually looking like she could share more than just some vowels with Emily Blunt, Weaver is funny in the few scenes that she is in. As with previous movies from the Apatow canon, there are indeed small appearances from recognizable funny people (like Kevin Hart, Mindy Kaling, Molly Shannon, Tim Heidecker, Brian Posehn, Chris Parnell, and more) but none of them are as funny as they could be.
TALKING: When it’s not slamming someone into something, The Five-Year Engagement counts on its dialogue, which offers more chuckles and smiles than actual laughs (which is an official way to rate comedy these days). The biggest laughs from the script might when be when someone compares the concept of relationships to Tom Hanks movies. As for the movie’s heart, the most effective speech is probably when Jason Segel muses on the stale donuts, even though Mindy Kaling nearly ruins it by making the metaphor obvious later in the movie.
SIGHTS: In some really jarring and ugly moments, Five-Year Engagement opts to use some awful stock footage to create a general picture of San Francisco. It looks like the filmmakers used material shot on a tourist’s video camera years ago and then tried to blow it up to 2012 digital multiplex standards. It wouldn’t be far off to say that The Room had better looking location shots of San Francisco. Yikes.
SOUNDS: In a performance that won over my screening audience twice, Chris Pratt sings the tender ballad “Cu-Cu-Rru-Cu-Cu-Paloma” by Tomas Mendez Sosa, complete with a serious Spanish falsetto and no subtitles. Even funnier is his own take on Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” which deserves a longer life in the DVD’s deleted scenes. Michael Andrews has a score that steps into the movie every now and then to fill the emotion points with precious piano chord progressions.
BEST SCENE: Since I gush over the ending in the section right below this one, I’ll pick something else … maybe when Chris Pratt sings about Tom’s former lovers? That’s a hysterical concept, and a nightmare as well.
ENDING: I’d be lying if I’m not basically in love with the ending that this movie chose. It’s not entirely a surprise, but it’s a great example of the stretched reality a great Hollywood ending can provide, especially to a movie that has moments of real hell. This is one of the sweetest endings of any romantic comedy in many years.
QUESTIONS: How much of this script comes from the idea of Jason Segel’s statement that his love for Muppets has made it troublesome for him to maintain relationships with females? I’m joking, but I’m also kind of serious. Is this movie a not-so subtle promotion for eloping?
REWATCHABILITY: The amount of laughs available and slow running time of this movie don’t lend it easily to multiple re-views, but it certainly wouldn’t be the worst movie to be stuck with for a second time.
Aside from being able to play the gender demographic game straight down the middle, Judd Apatow’s films have conquered the comedy game because we actually feel the facts of life events that characters experience. The competitive friendship in Bridesmaids, the fear of fatherhood in Knocked Up, the sexual naivete of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, the vulgar adolescence in Superbad, etc.
With The Five-Year Engagement, we grasp the problems of a life passion complicating meaningful relationships through Blunt’s character. We also feel the fragility of relationships during this movie’s very low points, with a couple of hard scenes that leave bruises. Though this movie has the goofy ups of Segel winning over bro dudes and especially their lady friends, Engagement also has sadness’s equivalent of the “gross-out,” in which the moments are so ugly you can barely watch them. It’s as if Apatow & Co. decided they wanted to make their own knuckle sandwich of sadness after seeing Like Crazy and Blue Valentine and cook up something similar with the help of good chemistry and bleeding heart rawness.
There are parts in which Blunt and Segel are working with separate storylines to keep our attention, and it only half works. Even though Blunt is busy building a relationship with her academic colleagues (including a surprising Ifans) and Segel is taking up a desperately exaggerated love for hunting, the pacing just feels empty. Nothing’s really happening, we’re just sitting around with these characters.
Along with its other offered feelings, The Five-Year Engagement also gives us a physical sensibility to the title’s waiting game. It’s a meta experience that Apatow has only succeeded with if he wants his audience to be irritated, impatient, and starved for the final word in a relationship. The waiting game just isn’t that much fun.
FINAL SCORE: 6/10