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The Five-Year Engagement Review

By Joe Lozito

Engaged to be Harried


Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller sat down to write the screenplay to "The Five-Year Engagement" with a clear premise: bring together a couple that was clearly made for each other (in this case, Mr. Segel's San Francisco sous chef Tom and his psychology Ph.D. student girlfriend Violet, played by Emily Blunt), open with a proposal (during New Years Eve, natch) and then spend two hours finding ways to keep them from getting married for the titular duration.

That description may sound a bit clinical and, in fact, it belies the film's considerable heart (a staple of any Judd Apatow production, such as this) and the utter likeability of its two stars. But in reality that's what the film is: a screenwriting challenge. Mr. Segel and Mr. Stoller, who also directs, have proven they have the comedy chops ("The Muppets", "Forgetting Sarah Marshall"), but with "Five-Year Engagement", the premise almost gets the better of them.

Where most romantic comedies spend their duration keeping the couple from their first hook-up, in "Five-Year", they start the film already together and clearly very happy. So the obstacles that keep them from their nuptials had better be pretty significant. And here - during the film's first half - is where it falters.

Essentially, Violet gets a dream job in Michigan, and Tom drops his prime restaurant gig to move there with her, where he spends two years being really unhappy about it (I suspect the film's grosses will not be stellar in that state). Since the characters, despite their penchant for rational thinking, don't truly communicate their feelings, resentment and betrayal eventually kick in and there - ironically - with the couple in tatters, the film finally takes off.

It turns out, as cute a couple as Ms. Blunt and Mr. Segel are (and, honestly, it's hard not to smile when they're together), they're better when their squabbling - especially during the initial fight which kicks off the film's second hour and ends, brilliantly, with Tom wanting to be alone (but not without Violet there). As the relationship deteriorates, and the film picks up, you almost forgive it its lethargic first hour.

As with any Apatow production, the supporting cast is top-notch, and largely plucked from the current TV line-up. Chris Pratt ("Parks and Recreation"), Alison Brie ("Community", "Mad Men"), Mindy Kaling ("The Office"). Each is given a moment to shine with a particular comedy characteristic. But the film succeeds entirely on the extreme cuteness of its two leads. Ms. Blunt, always a fine actress, has never been better, finding a heretofore unseen goofiness which puts her in vintage Meg Ryan territory. And while Mr. Segel may not be Tom Hanks or Billy Crystal, he makes a deceptively charismatic leading man by having his heart firmly sewn onto his sleeve in every scene. Even when his depression leads him to an ill-conceived foray into hunting, it's kinda endearing.

Perhaps the film's most ironic - and possibly insightful - bit of commentary is how the concept of marriage itself bears little resemblance to a true bond, sacred or otherwise (just look at how the officiant is selected in the film), and is seen as more of a hurdle to be overcome. So it's unclear what all the fuss is about in the first place.

Still, the script has enough wit and charm to overcome the shackles of its premise. Typical Apatow touches abound: constant profanity, genital humor, men behaving like boys, random violence involving a crossbow and frostbite. Too bad the obstacles in the film bear little resemblance to the type of thing that might really keep couples apart in 2012 - i.e., finances and finding a job. It turns out, while this couple may stay together, the film remains divorced from reality.

What did you think?

Movie title The Five-Year Engagement
Release year 2012
MPAA Rating R
Our rating
Summary Paper-thin romantic-comedy succeeds entirely on the extreme cuteness of its two stars.
View all articles by Joe Lozito
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