I imagine a lot of people like to take advantage of premium channel free previews. It’s a great chance to pad the old DVR with movies that weren’t quite intriguing enough to see in a theater, or in the case of my father, to record everything those 15 or so channels show for four days. Twice, in some cases.
While combing through HBO’s listings during their Easter weekend preview, which was really just designed to promote the new season of Game of Thrones to the seven people who weren’t aware, I noticed “The Five-Year Engagement,” the 2012 Judd Apatow-produced vehicle starring Jason Segel and Emily Blunt.
“The Five-Year Engagement” is billed as a romantic comedy – don’t believe me, check the trailer – but it’s rarely romantic and not often enough a comedy. There are a number of factors that make it watchable and at times pretty enjoyable, though the running time of the movie seems to exist mostly to match the title and remind us the lead-up to Segel and Blunt’s marriage isn’t the only thing that’s inscrutably long.
We meet Tom (Segel) and Violet (Blunt) as they’re about to get engaged in San Francisco after a year of dating, and the distractions that keep interrupting Tom’s proposal set the stage for what we know will be a much-delayed wedding. All is well until Violet isn’t accepted to Cal Berkeley’s post-doctorate psychology program but later gets into the same program at the University of Michigan, necessitating a two-year, cross-country move requiring Tom to give up his promising career as a rising sous chef in the Bay Area.
WHAT WORKS: Segel and Blunt, to start. There’s an easy chemistry there that is evident from the opening scene, and that makes it easy to initially root for the two of them even as they encounter a difficult-to-navigate situation. Acknowledging he can cook anywhere, Tom is right to pick up and move for Violet, and it’s easy to feel sympathy for him as he discovers he’s completely out of place in Ann Arbor. Segel is good at playing the down-on-his-luck character, but it’s Blunt who especially stands out. There’s no real blame that deserves to be thrown at Violet for wanting to pursue her dreams in academia, but in the hands of a less likeable actress, it’d be pretty easy to see her becoming somewhat detestable. That isn’t the case at all with Blunt, who is charmingly real in everything I’ve seen her in, from action (The Adjustment Bureau, Looper) to indie comedy (Sunshine Cleaning). Director Nicholas Stoller also helmed Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which was enjoyable in part because of the chemistry between Segel and Mila Kunis. The Segel-Blunt pairing is even better.
The story is compelling as well. Having a career get in the way of a blossoming relationship is a very relatable problem, and Tom’s unwillingness to be open about how he feels to Violet is spot on. This is the nitty gritty stuff of relationships most rom coms dare not touch, and it’s well-explored here, albeit at the expense of some laughs.
The funniest scenes go to Chris Pratt, who plays Tom’s best friend and co-worker, Alex. Alex is essentially a slightly-less-dumb version of Andy, Pratt’s character on Parks and Recreation, but winds up as both a professional success – due to Tom’s departure from San Francisco – and more surprisingly a domestic success as a father and husband despite knocking up Violet’s sister Suzie (Alison Brie) at the couple’s engagement party.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK: The editing. The movie comes in at 2 hours, 4 minutes, and it feels like this was almost an uncut version of the initial story. Much of the storyline inside the Michigan psych program was overdone, seemingly like an excuse to get Mindy Kaling and Kevin Hart, who play post-grad colleagues of Violet’s, a chance to add a few laughs. Unfortunately, most of their scenes are legitimately uncomfortable.
The same could be said for one of the scenes in the movie’s second act while we see Tom and Violet drifting apart. Without giving too much away, it involves nudity and deli salads – normally a tried-and-true Hollywood formula for Oscar nominations. This paves the way for the movie to move into the third act, where it unfortunately turns into a more traditional rom-com.
WHAT IT ALL MEANS: This is definitely a movie that works more if it comes in at a crisp 95-100 minutes, but it also might have been better as an indie comedy. There’s enough of an offbeat feel here to begin with and – aside from Pratt – a lack of traditional humor, to wonder if it may have been more successful with a tighter script and a budget of $15 million instead of $30 million. For what it is, though, it’s not unenjoyable. It’s worth seeing for Segel and Blunt, and for dealing with the real-life issues of romance rather than throwing Katherine Heigl and James Marsden together for a 90-minute snoozefest that’s leading up to a happily-ever-after makeout session.
CHECKING THE SCORE: Three stars out of five.