Most romantic comedies show us the meet-cute, the dating journey, the proposal, and then a quick cut to the wedding, that magical happily-ever-after that everyone dreams about. But what happens when the engagement goes on a bit longer than intended?
That’s the basic premise behind The Five-Year Engagement, a film that follows Tom (Jason Segel), Violet (Emily Blunt), and their many trip-ups on the way to the altar.
The film begins with Tom and Violet driving to a New Year’s party, exactly one year after the first time they met and the day that their relationship began. The two decide to tie the knot — even after a foiled proposal, caused by Tom’s inability to lie to Violet — but life soon gets in the way.
Violet longs for a job in academia near San Francisco, where the couple lives and where Tom is a very successful sous-chef. But once she is turned down, Violet decides to take a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan. Tom is the everyman in today’s feminist-empowered society, willing to do what it takes to please his fiancé. He’s a yes man, and he has no qualms about relocating to Michigan — at least, not yet.
Tom soon finds out that life in Michigan is not what he had hoped; he can’t find a job to be proud of, the people are weird, and it is freezing cold. When Violet’s two-year fellowship gets extended, things get worse — and not just for Tom. As their journey toward marriage is prolonged, grandparents die, Tom turns into a mutton chops-wearing Midwesterner, and Tom and Violet continue to drift apart.
Despite being labeled as a raunchy comedy, which it is, The Five-Year Engagement has a lot of heart, taking us along a surprisingly sad and tragic journey (while still making us laugh) and ending with a very touching and fun reunion that reminds us why we go to the movies.
As a Judd Apatow production, it goes without saying that this film involves some zany, over-the-top, and at times ridiculous gags, one including a crossbow (as seen in the trailer) and one including a frostbitten toe. However, while those gags could detract from other films or steer them down a one-way path to a rotten rating, that doesn’t happen here. The Five-Year Engagement is smart, self-aware, and yes, funny.
What this film does well, among other things, is its portrayal of relationship realism. There are times throughout the film where Tom and Violet could be any real-world couple, fighting to be heard, fighting for each other, struggling through hard times and doing their best to overcome what’s tearing their relationship apart. Screenwriter Nicholas Stoller, along with Jason Segel, clearly knows something about relationships that the rest of Hollywood could use a class on.
There are a couple of issues I found with the film, however: one being its length — it’s a tad overlong, particularly in the middle — and the other being the route that Stoller and Segel chose to go in terms of the couple’s split. While I won’t spoil what happens, I had a feeling that the film would test these waters, but I really hoped it wouldn’t. Perhaps that was just me seeing the chemistry between Tom and Violet and hoping they would just tie the knot already. Those are just minor issues, however, in a very solid film.
The Five-Year Engagement could succeed on its wit alone, but it really thrives on the chemistry and charm of its two lead actors, Jason Segel (The Muppets) as Tom and Emily Blunt (The Adjustment Bureau) as Violet. The two play off each other so effortlessly that viewers could actually see them in a relationship together, but the film succeeds even when they aren’t in scenes together, which is often the breaking point of nary a romantic comedy.
The ensemble supporting cast — including Chris Pratt (Moneyball), Alison Brie (“Community”), Rhys Ifans (The Amazing Spider-Man), Mindy Kaling (“The Office”), comedian Kevin Hart, and many others — is phenomenal and, in typical Judd Apatow fashion, adds another very funny layer to the movie.
There are several hysterical bits to be found, including a Cookie Monster/Elmo voice gag, Tom’s sweater-knitting hunter friend and their misadventures, Alex’s (Chris Pratt) one-liners, and various scenes including Violet’s fellow postdoc, uh, fellows. This is a riotous comedy, and yet, it is much more than that: it is a very funny romantic comedy that, despite its raunch, has a lot of appeal. While its opening weekend box-office may not be indicative of that, I have a feeling that after people are done catching The Avengers, they’ll return to the theater to catch this gem.
Better than Step Brothers, better than Pineapple Express, better than Funny People, better than Get Him to the Greek, and yes, better than Bridesmaids, The Five-Year Engagement is the best Judd Apatow production since 2008’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall. And you can take that to the altar.
The Five-Year Engagement: B