Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segel are together again (for the second time) in the new romantic-comedy The Five-Year Engagement, the story of an up-and-coming chef (Segel) and his Psychology grad student fiancee (played by Emily Blunt) whose plans to marry are derailed after she gets accepted for post-grad work at the University of Michigan. (Go Fighting Hedgehogs!)
Stoller and Segel’s previous collaboration was the delightfully raunchy Forgetting Sarah Marshall and you’ll find much of the same tone here (although, somewhat sweetly, a bone of contention is an errant drunk kiss rather than—the more graphic stuff in Marshall).
I and The Boy liked this movie quite a lot. It was pretty consistently chuckle-worthy, if not uproarious, and its extended length (two hours) didn’t feel padded, though you are really ready for it to end when it finally does. That’s kind of a cute cinematic trick, to convey the sense of a lengthened engagement so literally and, frankly, I liked it, but I could see others’ complaints in this regard.
The strength of this movie is in its characters, perhaps more so than Marshall, which fell back on some fairly standard character types. (That probably allowed it to be funnier, though.) Segel’s character is as ambitious, at least, as Blunt’s—kind of refreshing in these days of slacker men—but he sacrifices for her opportunity.
Obviously, this isn’t going to go well, or we wouldn’t have a picture.
But what’s interesting (and enjoyable) is this old-school romcom feel where the conflict comes from having two basically strong characters butt heads. Tom gives up the chance of lifetime for Violet, but he never tells her that. And as he slowly disintegrates, unable to maintain his identity in this new context, he’s as supportive as he can be—which is increasingly less supportive, since he’s becoming a basket case.
It evokes, with less wackiness, Michael Keaton and Teri Garr in Mr. Mom. You know from the moment you lay eyes on him that Violet’s supervisor George (aptly played by Jim Piddock, Catherine O’Hara’s urniary-incontinence mogul husband in A Mighty Wind) is going to go after her. At the same time, this movie gives him a lot more depth than the sleazy caricature Martin Mull depicts in Mr. Mom.
No, much as in Marshall, while the characters have problems, they tend to come from being stubborn, or just too fixed in how they view themselves and others. This basic truism lends a lot of strength to the tale, rather than making it a story of good guys and bad guys.
Perhaps the most interesting side-facet of the movie comes in the form of Alex and Suzie, his and her best buds, who end up drunkenly hooking up at the engagement party. Alex (Chris Pratt, Moneyball) is a pig, a neanderthal, a complete throwback and, if not a loser, a modestly ambitious and somewhat shortsighted person while Suzie (Alsion Brie, “Mad Men”) is a more modern, feminist woman who is completely embarrassed by the hookup—and who ends up pregnant.
The movie relishes the irony of demonstrating the mismatched couple living their lives over the five year period in a reasonably happy and responsible way while the perfect pair we’re rooting for go utterly to pieces. “You’re over-thinking it,” the movie seems to say. Or perhaps, in the parlance of our times, “You’re doing it wrong.”
Jason Segel, pioneer in the modern “full-frontal comedy” lets us down a little bit by only featuring an apron with a picture of a penis rather than the real thing, but he’s getting up there in years to be waving that thing around. (What the hell am I saying?)
Anyway, The Boy and I both enjoyed it, and while we agreed it ran a bit long, it was hard to see a lot of opportunities for cutting that wouldn’t undermine the story they were telling.