Starring: Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, Lauren Weedman, Brian Posehn, Chris Parnell, Rhys Ifans, Mimi Kennedy, David Paymer, Jacki Weaver, Jim Piddock, Dakota Johnson, Mindy Kaling, Randall Park, Kevin Hart, Molly Shannon.
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Apatow Productions and Universal Pictures.
Written by: Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller.
|“Will you marry me?” – Tom (Jason Segel).
With his films The 40-Year Old Virgin, Bridesmaids, Funny People, and Knocked Up, among others, producer/writer/director Judd Apatow has almost redefined the R-rated comedy for much of the last decade. Balancing jaw dropping and shocking humor with acute dramatic tone, Apatow’s projects all carry a particular swagger, which brings about a different look and feel than other “mature” comedies that come down the pike in a given year. Largely, Judd Apatow films balance absurdity with honesty and reality, and often strike a deeper and more meaningful chord with viewers who invest the time necessary to watch them. And unique somewhat with Apatow films are the length – while most films hoping for pop culture acceptance and mainstream appeal run between 90-100 minutes, Apatow’s films almost always match or exceed 2 hours in length, which to this point has been a curiosity perhaps, but not really a detriment per se.
After producing and overseeing the hilarious and star-making romantic comedy, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Apatow has reunited with the writer/director tandem of Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segel (The Muppets, Marshall), to bring Segel and Stoller’s The Five-Year Engagement to the masses. Engagement stars the infinitely talented Segel starring alongside Emily Blunt in a romantic dramedy documenting two people, who meet on New Year’s Eve, fall in love, get engaged, and then remain engaged as their lives travel in vastly different paths and directions. While there are countless moments that work well and an abundance of quotable lines and sequences, The Five-Year Engagementalmost squanders all of its likability and winning lead performances by being a labored affair – a film that meanders, wanders and gets lost, but ultimately finds its way back home.
Segel and Blunt star as Tom and Violet, who move on from the goofy San Francisco rooftop New Year’s Eve costume party and fall head over heels in love. Tom works as a sous chef for a bustling high-end restaurant and Violet is attempting to pursue her doctorate in social psychology at a local university. However, plans start to go awry when Violet is accepted at the University of Michigan for a two-year program and not UC-Berkeley, the local university that fits the couple’s plans perfectly. They talk, Tom listens, and together they agree to move to Michigan for Violet’s two year program, putting off their marriage plans temporarily so Violet can pursue her degree.Tom is confident that he can work anywhere and once they relocate to Michigan he finds that not to be the case. Eventually, Tom settles in for a low-paying job making sandwiches at a popular deli. He remains supportive and together, Tom and Violet adjust to their new normal. Eventually, fissures form in the relationship, Violet’s successes offer her greater opportunities while Tom’s fizzles out and becomes a shell of his former self. Caught in the whirlpool of pursuing life ambitions and supporting one another, Tom and Violet suppress a lot of what they are feeling and their new normal constantly changes and reconfigures itself.
Excluding The Muppets, when looking at Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The Five-Year Engagement, it is readily apparent that Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller are kindred spirits with Judd Apatow in terms of telling these types of stories. Both Marshall and Engagement, and many of Apatow’s screenplays, cover lots of ground, weave several subplots into the main story, and attempt to provide many meaningful and memorable moments, both touching and raunchy, working very hard to deliver in every conceivable way. One of the reasons films like Bridesmaids, The 40-Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, even Pineapple Express, Funny People and Sarah Marshall are so well-received and beloved by people is that they are, by and large, smarter films; intuitive and well orchestrated, with situations and characters that carry an integrity about them.
And yes, Jason Segel and Emily Blunt are terrific together, with Segel enigmatic as ever and Blunt proving that there is nothing she cannot do. They win our hearts in these roles and if The Five-Year Engagement becomes a box office success, perhaps Emily Blunt will finally reach the level of stardom she has so richly deserved these last few years. Not yet 30, Blunt does not hurt for work certainly and is fairly well-known, but she is one of the finest actresses working today, and hopefully, more and more people continue to recognize that through her work here.
In supporting roles, Alison Brie (“Community”) and Chris Pratt (Moneyball, “Parks and Recreation”) are great as Violet’s sister and Tom’s best friend, who find their lives connected unexpectedly after Tom and Violet’s engagement party. As Tom settles into life in Michigan, he finds a curious stay-at-home father and hunting buddy in Bill (Chris Parnell) and tumbles into feelings of being jaded and jealous of Violet’s success. Violet is selected to join a revered group of researchers, led by Winston (Rhys Ifans), a mentoring psychology professor. Winston takes a liking to Violet and one of a handful of subplots develop involving not only Violet’s success with her team but also Winston himself. Both sets of parents have their moments as well, including Oscar-nominee Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom) offering a handful of funny lines as Violet’s mother and David Paymer and Mimi Kennedy are humorous, if not custom-made Apatow older parents, aggravated with Tom over the relationship’s many twists and turns.
While The Five-Year Engagement covers a lot of ground, at times that becomes not so much a surprise as more of an obligation. When all of the elements are dialed in, scenes work, click, and function pleasingly. However, there are stretches of time and scenes where you simply desire Tom and Violet to be the focus and Segel and Stoller are so preoccupied with other potential storylines that when you see where the entire story ultimately ends up, you cannot help but return to the film and wonder why so much wasted energy was used to pad this film out about 20-30 minutes longer than it needs to be.
I laughed though. I liked a lot of The Five-Year Engagement a great deal and certainly don’t feel it is a bad film at all. Emily Blunt and Jason Segel are worth the time invested, and they share a great number of winning moments. Because there is so much to like and laugh at, The Five-Year Engagement is hard to outright dislike. You wish it more focused and committed to its main story, but at the end of the day, The Five-Year Engagement is infinitely watchable and rewatchable. That fact, in and of itself, will be more than enough reason to spend the time.
Should I See It?
Fans of Apatow films of the past will like this as well. All the aspects of those films are present here, the dramatically-tinged humor fitting in alongside raunchy and bawdy jokes and gags. Typical as well, the film is well acted and hard to not find something to like.
Emily Blunt proves that no matter the co-star, she has chemistry with anyone in any scenario. She is terrific here and Jason Segel continues to shine as a refreshingly likable actor – tall, fairly bulky, and yet completely believable as a love interest.
A romantic comedy/drama will always draw interest and for those who don’t mind the R-rating, The Five-Year Engagement is a great date night option.
Too much of a good thing. To be honest, we could lose a half hour and a couple of subplots, and the film would be more funny, more logical, and more focused, and in turn, a better experience. It is enjoyable as is, but in realizing what it could have been if reigned in a bit, may be aggravating for viewers.
Segel and Stoller try really hard to make Tom and Violet’s viewpoints, struggles, and problems appear equally legitimate and important and not balance to one side or another. in doing so, when the film drags you begin to wonder if they should just get married or break up. Some have complained that The Five-Year Engagement feels five years long at times, and I can certainly see the argument.