Let me start off by saying that I went into “The Five-Year Engagement” at a slight disadvantage. Unlike many people today, I’m not a fan of Judd Apatow, his films, or most of his usual collaborators. Apatow frequently works with the same casts including Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill – two actors that I instantly avoid, as well Will Ferrell who I feel is terribly overrated. This particular Apatow production stars another favorite of his, Jason Segel who’s nowhere near as annoying as Rogen and Hill, but has never really blown me away either. But I was encouraged to give the movie a try after seeing Emily Blunt’s named attached. I think she’s a fabulous and underrated actress who also has a knack for humor. Unfortunately, despite her wonderful performance and occasional hilarity, “The Five-Year Engagement” is a sluggish and often times erratic romantic comedy that had me checking my watch numerous times.
The film was directed by Nicholas Stoller who also co-wrote the story along with Segel. At it’s core it’s a fairly basic rom-com but with genuine promise. Segel plays Tom Solomon a chef at a fancy San Francisco restaurant. Those familiar with Segel will recognize this character from several of his other pictures. Tom is a dorky but easygoing guy. After a year together, Tom proposes to his girlfriend Violet (Blunt), a psychology graduate who is desperately hoping to be accepted by Berkley for doctoral studies. It doesn’t take us long to see where the story is going. The two begin planning their wedding but soon Violet receives a letter saying she has been accepted by the University of Michigan. The two push back their wedding and Tom sacrifices a chance to be the head chef at a new restaurant to relocate to Michigan.
While in Michigan Violet’s career takes off while Tom grows more and more disenchanted with his job at a sandwich shop. A wedge (that you can see coming a mile away) forms in their relationship and soon her career desires and his hatred for living in Michigan leave them questioning whether they were ever meant to be. Blunt and Segel have a nice chemistry even though there were a few scenes where I couldn’t help but question the authenticity of their relationship. Segel gives a solid performance all while hitting the same notes over and over. Blunt is fantastic and her character has more depth and range than any other in the film. There are several times where their jovial playfulness cracked me up. There are also some more serious scenes where the two work off each other exceptionally well. Then there are the few instances where their relationship feels completely manufactured. This can be attributed to what I think is the biggest problem with this film – the writing.
Segel and Stoller’s story runs into a wall at about the 80 minute mark. With a running time of over two hours, “The Five-Year Engagement” lumbers along to the point where I was taking the movie’s “5 Year” title seriously. Segel and Stoller cram way too much into the film, dragging things out and apparently leaving nothing on the cutting room floor. They take the basic plot points and draw them out well beyond what’s necessary. There were several times where I was so ready for them to move on to the next part of the story. They also stray off into some fairly weird directions. For example, in a dark comedy turn of sorts, Tom becomes this deranged mountain man type. It happens out of the blue and is over before you know it. Overall, the plodding pace and unneeded deviations end up squashing whatever charm and affection the movie builds up.
I also struggled with the erratic use and styles of humor. Now don’t get me wrong, there were instances where I laughed pretty hard. Many of these instances were due to some quirky, out-of-the-blue moment that hit just right. But there’s no real flow to the comedy and many of the gags fall flat. I mentioned the dark comedy turns, but there are also dashes of slapstick and the unfortunate and unfunny raunchy gutter humor that Apatow productions just can’t seem to steer away from. I can think of several of these scenes that added nothing to the movie and that could have been sacrificed for a tighter and more concise story.
“The Five-Year Engagement” has the premise for a smart and entertaining romantic comedy but the overindulged writing and poor execution causes it to fall short. It’s a shame because Blunt is wonderful and her performance feels wasted. But I did find some laughs and our couple do have some good moments on-screen. There are also some good supporting roles that help the movie along as well as some rehashed roles that we’ve all seen before. But in the end it’s the writing that lets the movie down and that may surprise those people who are big fans of these guys.