Romantic comedies about weddings are the cinematic equivalent of reality shows about wedding planners. They probably reach the exact same audience and involve about the same amount of creative effort. (“Eh, people watch those things. Let’s just make another one of those.”) The Five-Year Engagement has the benefit of a solid cast and a credible bunch of people behind the camera. But it’s still a lazy cut-and-paste job, combining elements of every nuptial-based rom-com since Four Weddings and a Funeral.
We start out with our protagonists. He’s a goofy wannabe chef. She’s a brainy wannabe psychologist. He’s Tom. She’s Violet. He’s played by Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall). She’s played by Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada). Things start off cute enough with Tom nervously proposing to girlfriend-of-one-year Violet. From there, we get ... not so much a story as a random series of events designed to produce the titular time period. There are funerals, there are babies, there are other people’s weddings. There is some consternation over what cake filling to choose. Most importantly, there’s a big career move from sunny San Francisco to snowy Michigan so Violet can do her postgraduate work. This leads to much fighting, unhappiness, depression and (for some reason) taxidermy.
Don’t let the implied marriage of the title fool you. The Five-Year Engagement is identical to every other romantic comedy: Our couple hooks up, our couple goes through some forced hard times, our couple breaks up and our couple makes up just in time for the end credits. The film (co-written by star Segel and director pal Nicholas Stoller) ekes out a few decent laughs. The raunchiness is kept at a moderate level (a few male butt shots and some masturbatory humor). But the story is strictly by-the-numbers.
Hmm. A chef romancing a grad student? How long do you calculate before she’s kissing the studly older professor and he’s considering shagging the cute young waitress? Give it about 50 minutes. Allow another 30 to wallow in self-pity. A further 20 to figure out they really love one another (because all other people turn out to be secretly horrible). Toss in a final 10 or so to deliver the standard-issue happy conclusion. Tally it all up, and you’ll be home before the baby-sitter is making overtime.
Segel and Blunt are likable enough screen personalities, but their characters don’t leave much room for chemistry. Honestly, after listening to them carp and argue and fight and bitch and kvetch, I couldn’t care less if they never got married—to anyone, much less each other. We’re not talking The Break-Up levels of unpleasantness, but at some point, The Five-Year Engagement becomes not a lot of fun to watch—probably at the moment one of the main characters gets gangrene. The supporting cast does its best to lighten the mood, tossing in a lot of B-grade improv. But even there, this film seems to be cutting corners.
Rather than—I don’t know, hiring a casting director—producers have simply hijacked the entire Thursday night lineup from NBC. We’ve Chris Pratt from “Parks and Recreation,” Alison Brie from “Community,” Mindy Kaling from “The Office” and Chris Parnell from “30 Rock.” Nice to see you folks, but your sitcoms are way funnier.
Writer-director Stoller, who gave us such “I vaguely remember that” films as Fun with Dick and Jane, Yes Man, Get Him To the Greek and Gulliver’s Travels, obviously has a kinship with Segel. (They also worked together on Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The Muppets.) But his sense of comic timing lags significantly in this film’s dreary, slightly more “dramatic” third reel. (During one scene, Blunt and Brie are reduced to arguing in Muppet voices to pretend this is still a comedy.) Super-producer Judd Apatow (Bridesmaids, Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Superbad, Pineapple Express) contributes ... his name to the poster. And possibly those shots of Segel’s ass.
The Five-Year Engagement can probably be summed up by its decision to have an all-Van-Morrison soundtrack. Yup. It’s not unpleasant, exactly. Just very familiar and slightly boring.
The Five-Year EngagementJason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) co-wrote the script and co-stars as a goofy San Francisco chef who proposes to his straight-laced psychologist girlfriend (Emily Blunt, The Devil Wears Prada). Less a story and more a series of random occurences designed to produce the titular time period, The Five-Year Engagement isn't nearly as much fun as it should be. The plot points come straight out of the Rom-Com Writer's Handbook and the supporting cast is made up almost entirely of Thursday night NBC sitcom stars. 124 minutes R.