Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Stars: Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Chris Pratt, Rhys Ifans, Alison Brie, Lauren Weedman, Jacki Weaver, David Paymer, Mimi Kennedy, Jim Piddock, Dakota Johnson, Mindy Kaling, Randall Park, Kevin Hart, Molly Shannon, Chris Parnell, Brian Posehn.
Can you remember a time when the average romantic comedy ran for a brisk 90 minutes? Those days are apparently long gone. Now most romcoms seem to be more bloated, especially those films produced under the auspices of Judd Apatow. Most of his films (Knocked Up, The Forty Year Old Virgin, etc) regularly run for over 120 minutes, and their skewed take on romance is liberally sprinkled with gratuitously risque dialogue and scatological humour. But there are also some warmth and bittersweet moments beneath the ribald humour.
The latest entry from the Apatow school of romcoms is The Five Year Engagement, and it features many of his signature touches. No, this is not an American remake of the French drama A Very Long Engagement. Rather, the film looks at the pitfalls of a longterm relationship, and is as painfully drawn out as it sounds. The film reunites Jason Segel and Emily Blunt, who appeared together in the disappointing Jack Black vehicle Gulliver’s Travels and the recent reboot of The Muppets.
Segel plays Tom Solomon, a sous chef at a top San Francisco restaurant. He has been dating Violet (Blunt), a doctoral student in behavioural psychology, for a year, since they first met at a themed New Year’s Eve Party. Tom proposes to Violet, and when she accepts both families are ecstatic about the forthcoming nuptials. They are keen to see the couple married before some of their elderly and frail grandparents shuffle off this world.
Then a slight hitch arrives when Violet receives a two-year grant to study at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, working under the tutelage of the brilliant but obnoxious professor Winton Childs (Rhys Ifans). Tom willingly gives up his job so Violet can follow her dream, and the pair move to grey and dull Michigan. They decide to postpone the wedding until the two years are up. Which is when their relationship becomes a little more complicated and is tested. While Violet’s career flourishes, Tom finds very few job opportunities. The best he can find is making sandwiches at Zingerman’s deli. Ennui begins to set in for Tom.
The film looks at issues of commitment, responsibility, and explores how life is sometimes complicated and messy and that even the best-laid plans can take an unexpected detour. There’s an unmistakable ring of truth to the film. The crude humour seems forced at times, and sits uncomfortably with the very human story.
After a promising start full of infectious humour, the film slowly begins to grind to a halt. Segel co-wrote the film with director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, etc), but it suffers from the same flaws as their previous collaborations. There is a lot of padding in the middle act and the film becomes tedious and self-indulgent with too many subplots and contrived situations. Stoller’s direction is pedestrian and uninspired. The film is tonally uneven, and at least 30 minutes too long.
Nonetheless there are some great moments throughout, including a slapstick chase, but much of the comic spark is provided by the secondary characters. Particularly good is Chris Pratt (from tv sitcom Parks And Recreation, etc), who practically steals the film as Alex, Tom’s best friend and all round doofus who often says the most inappropriate things at the wrong time. Alison Brie (from Community and Mad Men, etc) gets plenty of laughs as Violet’s impulsive sister Suzie. Lauren Weedman also makes her few scenes count as Tom’s aggressively butch boss. In her first Hollywood film since her Oscar nomination, Australia’s Jacki Weaver is wasted in a small and thankless role as Violet’s mother.
There is fantastic chemistry and an easygoing rapport between the vivacious Blunt and Segel, which grounds the film. Segel makes good use of his lumbering sad-sack screen persona here.
Veteran cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe (the Twilight series, etc) draws a wonderful visual contrast between warm and sunny San Francisco and the drab, wintry Ann Arbor, which also enriches an otherwise formulaic and pedestrian romcom.