Ambitious rom-com too uneven
The Five-year Engagement Starring Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie. Written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, Directed by Nicholas Stoller. 124 minutes, rated M (sex scenes, offensive language), showing at Reading Cinemas Porirua, Light House Pauatahanui cinema. Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller cooked up one of the best comedies of the last decade with Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but their latest riff on relationships suffers from chronic identity crisis.
Tonally, The Five- Year Engagement is all over the map. There’s a handful of wonderful scenes between Segel and Emily Blunt, which offer more honest observations and insights into couple-dom than we’ve come to expect from a dozen romcoms.
Judd Apatow – who produced the film – and Segel and Stoller themselves with Sarah Marshall, have proved that wit and heart can sit pretty comfortably next to masturbation jokes, but here the broader comic leanings are too extreme and uneven.
We meet Tom (Segel) and Violet (Blunt) just as he is about to pop the question, a year into their romance. They are a sweet couple and a happy future beckons. Tom is a chef at a trendy San Francisco restaurant while Blunt is a psychology brain trying to secure a research position.
Though the title suggests the standard rom-com fixation with wedding planning, the crux of the story is more challenging than that: the changing individual happiness of Tom and Violet and the impact on their relationship – most prominently their move to snowy Ann Arbor so Violet can take up a contract at Michigan State University.
Tom is miserable in the Midwest. Violet knows it, but little is said. Tension grows and their relationship is put under considerable strain.
Not exactly a laugh- aminute situation, but don’t worry, Stoller and Segel conjure every gag they can think of to lighten the load, from blood-gushing sliced fingers, crossbow accidents and weirdo stay- at- home dads who knit to a farcical street fight between Tom and Violet’s boss.
Even when Tom appears to suffer depression halfway through the movie, it’s played for amusement; he grows mutton-chops and turns deer hides and hooves into, well, everything. Watch out for the superb Chewbacca joke.
The humour is often entertaining, but jarringly scattershot, undermining the audience’s emotional investment in Tom, Violet and their fragile relationship.
Most of the crude gags come courtesy of Alex, Tom’s brash best bud, played by Parks and Recreation’s Chris Pratt, while nutty sandwich bar boss Brian Posehn ( The Sarah Silverman Show) provides the motherload of absurdity. If you’re familiar with either of these TV shows, you’ll know how contrasting the comedic styles are.
Given how often folks in real life do put their ambitions on hold for the sake of their partners’, and how people in their 20s and early 30s still have a lot of changing to do – not always in the same direction – it’s surprising how rarely mainstream cinema focuses on such internal pressures. In the past 30 years Hollywood has been obsessed with taking two hours to get a man and woman to the first admission of ‘‘I love you’’.
The Five-year Engagement recognises the more fertile territory comes after this. Its ambition is commendable, but its execution is a muddle.
Forget Sarah Marshall and The 40 Year Old Virgin, this is closer to the Get Him to The Greek and Funny People end of the comedy spectrum.
has good intentions of mixing heartfelt relationship angst with humour, but the bizarre mix of comic styles will test the audience’s devotion as much as Tom and Violet test each other’s.
Odd couple: The Five-year Engagement