There are romantic comedies and then there’s real life. “The Five-Year Engagement,” believes it can be both.
This latest collaboration between Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segel (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) stars Segel and Emily Blunt as Tom and Violet, a pair of totally-in-love inseparables whose plans to tie the knot keep getting pushed back to accommodate their professional ambitions, but the delay has consequences for both themselves individually and their relationship.
Truthfully, “The Five-Year Engagement” finds really nice moments of both real-life relationship drama and rom-com, but considering the two so rarely form a dream marriage of their own, we don’t get to see them together.
The film starts out in convincing fashion. Violet and Tom are hopelessly in love and we buy every second of their history together. That success rests with these actors: the living teddy bear that is Segel, and especially Blunt — who’s something else. She’s so naturally sincere and believable in every film she does yet so effortlessly funny too. There’s no question that without them both, this experiment in relationship comedy would have died within the first 45 minutes.
These two lovable stars help to ease the drag of a two-hour run time. So between that and the mention of “experimental comedy” you might be able to tell Judd Apatow produced this film. “Engagement” fits right in line with the contemporary comedy king’s streak of pairing hilarity with life wisdom (evidenced by “Funny People”).
Considering the story follows two engaged people and is labeled and marketed as a romantic comedy from the producers of “Bridesmaids,” it would be reasonable to expect the final act of the movie to contain a wedding. I won’t spoil anything here, but you can use your best judgment in evaluating that assumption. Either way, the film’s trajectory is pretty obvious, and so the creative responsibility rests on writers Stoller and Segel to entertain along the way with cleverly devised, amusing and believable hiccups for our lovebirds to encounter.
Stoller and Segel are reliable vets at the comedy game, and their script hits plenty of comedic high notes from start to finish. When you consider that no single plot point other than “the two leads get engaged” could be deemed vital to the entire film and therefore all subsequent events must be creatively designed to keep our attention, they deserve a standing ovation for the number of contrived jokes that work. But the catch is that their own concept for this film put them in that situation in the first place.
The story slowly uncovers the arc of these characters over time until a major second-act climax reveals an obvious ending, but the movie feels perpetually open-ended. Not in the suspenseful way, but in the everything and anything could happen so let’s just cut to it already — sort of way.
Most of the bumps in the road are realistic, at least toward the beginning when we’ve got the film on a longer leash. As it wears on, of course, Stoller and Segel feel the pressure to make something happen, and they go with a bit of a leap in logic. Regardless, when the film choses to be real, it feels real. Violet gets her big opportunity at the University of Michigan and Tom, a chef, compromises for her as he knows he can cook anywhere. They both discuss not wanting any resentment, but the reality of the situation sneaks in as Tom discovers exactly what his compromise entails. There’s no denying this happens in relationships; two people who want to commit to each other also must reconcile their personal ambitions.
Seeing as real life can be boring, the film attempts to compensate with its assortment of humorous situations and characters. Several comedians including Mindy Kaling, Kevin Hart and Brian Posehn play supporting roles just sort of tacked onto the story, even though they’re effective in spots. Although so much of this works, there’s no concealing that it fluffs the story and simply delays the film’s inevitable conclusion centered around the question of whether Violet and Tom will get married.
“The Five-Year Engagement” gets caught between its desire to be humorous and engaging as well as relatable and realistic — an exercise in shoving polarizing forces together. Fortunately, some talented and funny people took this risk, and it makes “The Five-Year Engagement” a sweet film and a worthwhile watch.
The Five-Year Engagement
Directed by Nicholas Stoller
Written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller
Starring: Emily Blunt, Jason Segel, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie