Friday, April 27, 2012

Movie Review: The Five-Year Engagement

Emily Blunt and Jason Segel
The Five-Year Engagement
Directed by: Nicholas Stoller
Starring: Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Alison Brie, Chris Pratt and Rhys Ifans

I reviewed this film for Next Projection.

The latest romantic comedy from the Judd Apatow laugh factory is more about falling out of love and the struggle in trying to find your way back into healthy-relationship territory. The older we get and the more set in our ways, the harder it can become to reach a happy medium. And, amidst penis jokes and casually tossed expletives, The Five-Year Engagement sets its sights on realistically dealing with "grown up" relationship issues -- and, for the most part, it succeeds.

Tom (Jason Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt) take "meet cute" to a whole new level, involving a New Year's Eve party, a pink bunny superhero and a Princess Diana costume. Sparks inevitably fly and, after a year-long courtship, Tom proposes to Violet in memorably awkward fashion. Tom is a successful sous-chef in a San Francisco restaurant while Violet works towards a social psychology degree from UC Berkeley. However, their plans change abruptly when Violet learns she's been turned down by Berkeley but accepted at the University of Michigan for a two year stint. Tom, being the supportive fiance, offers to move with her so she can pursue her passion. The two reach a mutual agreement to put their wedding on hold until further notice.

There's technically nothing preventing Tom and Violet from getting married -- people decide to wed while still attending post-secondary education all the time -- and they are clearly in love and financially secure. Yet, they choose to delay the inevitable. Are they both having second thoughts? In the meantime, other family members and friends get hitched and have babies. Grandparents begin to pass away. Tom and Violet start to drift apart as he struggles to find a decent job in their new hometown and she spends more and more time with her professor (Rhys Ifans) and fellow classmates. No longer in sync with one another, they start to drift apart -- Tom gets restless while Violet tries to understand his emotional struggles and enjoy her own success at the same time.
Scene-stealers Alison Brie and Chris Pratt
Like most Apatow flicks, the film balances raunchy humour with genuinely poignant moments. Unlike many characters within the romantic comedy genre, Tom and Violet feel lifted straight from real life. Their arguments are embedded in a degree of realism -- we've all had the same fights with a loved one at some point. What really stands out most is its lack of plot contrivances. The usual romcom tropes are ignored with the script instead favouring refreshingly unique (and often side-splittingly funny) situational comedic scenes. Watch for a particularly wonderful moment involving an entire conversation carried on in the voices of Elmo and Cookie Monster.

However, The Five-Year Engagement struggles to overcome its meandering plot, structural problems and jarring shifts in tone. Segel, who co-wrote the script with the film's director Nicholas Stoller, loses grasp of his character at the halfway mark where Tom becomes a depressed mountain man (literally) who grows a horrific beard, hunts for game and brews his own honey mead. This, combined with a weird seduction scene in a deli, feels out of place and brings the plot to a standstill. Tom randomly transforms into an irritating, emasculated man-child who resents and envies his fiancee's success and lack of his own. He becomes a bit of a drag and threatens to take the whole movie down with him. Luckily, he snaps out of his funk but the glacially paced middle portion of the film dampens the spirit of Engagement.

Segel needed a third pair of eyes to go over the script with a fine-tooth comb. At just slightly over two hours in length, The Five-Year Engagement could have benefited from a tightened narrative that would have resulted in some of the more extraneous scenes being left on the cutting room floor.

What ultimately saves the film is its clever situational comedy and talented cast -- and not only from the always-reliable Segel and the charming Blunt, but also Chris Pratt and Alison Brie as Tom's best bud Alex and Violet's neurotic sister, Suzie. Both Pratt and Brie quite nearly steal the entire film out from under Segel and Blunt.

Buried beneath its plodding middle and two hour-plus running time is a sharp commentary on grown up relationships and the sacrifices and compromises we sometimes have to make for those we love. So kudos to Segel and co. for setting out to make a romantic comedy that feels both refreshingly unique and, at certain points, brutally honest.