The Five-Year Engagement is perfect for anyone who liked Blue Valentine, but felt it was a little light on the yuks. Director Nicholas Stoller reunites with his Forgetting Sarah Marshall star and screenwriter Jason Segel for yet another trip down Disintegrating Relationship Lane. This time around, they track the post-courtship of Tom (Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt); from the dizzying highs following his proposal of marriage, to the tedious lows of stasis half a decade later. It’s not a patch on their previous collaborations – including The Muppets, which they co-wrote – nor will it be remembered as among the upper echelon of producer Judd Apatow‘s stable (not even close). That being said, The Five-Year Engagement is pretty funny throughout and exceptionally funny on occasion, and sadly, that is a rarity in modern rom-coms, for which the percentage of success has become even bleaker than the national divorce rate.
Masterchef Tom and budding academic Violet meet on New Year’s Eve at a fancy dress party; he in a bunny costume, and she as Princess Diana. Twelve months later, he pops the question at the location of their first kiss, and, were the credits to roll, we would expect them to begin their march towards marital bliss. Not quite. For all their romantic intentions, obstacles of varying significance keep getting in the way of matrimony: work, relocations, untamed facial hair, numerous deaths, one frostbitten toe, and a batch of stale donuts. The stale donuts – which Violet is using to test the patience of emotional cripples in her social psychology course – will prove to be the deal-breaker.
Though Tom has dreams of opening up his own restaurant in San Francisco, he agrees to follow Violet to the University of Michigan where she’s been offered a two-year stint alongside charming Welsh Professor Winton Childs (Rhys Ifans, who we should be thankful is back in our lives after what seemed like a very long absence). For a while there, I was worried Segel would paint Tom as too much of a martyr, and have Blunt’s Violet shoulder the blame for their dissolution. But, after spending the first two acts withdrawing into a state of depression and near-madness, he remarks that he’s not proud of the man he’s become. It’s a nice moment. The Five-Year Engagement reveals itself to be remarkably even-handed, particularly during the more serious sequences. The lead performers help sell the transition from comedy to drama and back again. Segel is reliably sympathetic and frustrating all at once, while the down-to-Earth Blunt proves again here she would have electrifying chemistry with a hatstand, should she ever be cast opposite one.
Stoller and Segel populate the picture with some of the best comic ringers in the business: Parks and Recreation‘s Chris Pratt and Community‘s Alison Brie are gifted (or, rather, gift the movie) with the best scenes, as Tom’s boneheaded buddy and Violet’s sister respectively; Mimi Kennedy, David Paymer, Jim Piddock, and, in a wonderfully bizarre casting twist, Australia’s own Jacki Weaver star as their parents, waiting impatiently for the duo to tie the knot; even further on the fringes are their respective colleagues, played by Brian Posehn, Mindy Kaling, Dakota Johnson, Chris Parnell, and Kevin Hart. There are plenty of others worth mentioning, but, as you can see, I’ve already spent an entire paragraph on a roll call. If only Stoller had been able to edit his feature similarly. It’s always a shame to leave funny people on the cutting room floor; however, when the sheer volume of them starts to affect the pacing, and ultimately ones enjoyment, they become a necessary sacrifice. The Five-Year Engagement is 124 minutes long, and we spend at least 100 of those minutes saying “Hey, it’s [so and so],” with diminishing enthusiasm.
The films of Nicholas Stoller – and producer Judd Apatow, for that matter – have a different tenor to most romantic comedies; amiable and ambling, occasionally stopping off at a comedic set piece before gliding to its finale. Even Stoller’s last effort, Get Him to the Greek, didn’t let the ticking clock propelling much of the action stand in the way of a digression-filled third act. On first viewing, they can seem underwhelming, but revisits are usually rewarding (often because we’ve sat through a number of lacklustre “comedies” in the meantime). I laughed a lot during The Five-Year Engagement and fully expect to do the same when I inevitably see it again. Sometimes we just need to take a little break from one another to appreciate what it is we really have.
The Five-Year Engagement is now showing in Australian cinemas.