The Five-Year Engagement: Check ‘No’ On Your RSVP
I hesitate to say that Judd Apatow is ruining cinematic comedy, but there’s certainly a troubling trend on display here in The Five-Year Engagement, the latest collaboration from Forgetting Sarah Marshall creators Jason Segel and Nick Stoller. Much like the superior films Apatow directed or produced (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, the aforementioned Sarah Marshall, its spinoff Get Him To The Greek, and last year’s hit Bridesmaids), it is too long, full of unrelated scenes that don’t serve the narrative and likely belong as a DVD extra. Sadly, in this outing, the unrelated scenes are the sole source of humor, with comedians like Chris Parnell and Brian Posehn waltzing away with every scene while Segel and his co-star Emily Blunt wallow in misery. We, unfortunately, wallow with them– it’s a dreary, draggy affair whose positive qualities are canceled out by poor pace, awkward storytelling, and a sparsity of laughs.
Tom (Segel) is a chef in San Francisco with a thriving career. He’s known Violet (Blunt), a psych student applying for grad schools, for a year now. He asks her to marry her, and she says yes. However, when the only school she gets accepted to is Michigan, he quits his job and tags along to Ann Arbor. Violet has the time of her life, with her impressed professor (Rhys Ifans) and her new friends (Mindy Kaling, Kevin Hart). Tom goes stir crazy, with no one to talk to but a fellow bored husband (Parnell) and the eccentric boss of the local bagel shop where he works (Posehn). Tom and Violet fail to communicate with one another, and things fall apart, leading us to wonder if they’ll ever get back together. Maybe you’ll wonder instead what I was wondering: when will this couple break up already?
Starting with the positive, the film is not without laughs. Actors like Chris Parnell, Brian Posehn, and Kevin Hart don’t know how to be unfunny. Parnell in particular has such a strong track record playing this type of emasculated man that his mere appearance on screen had me laughing immediately. Jacki Weaver, Mimi Kennedy, and David Paymer do good work as the cloying parents– Weaver does a spin on her character from Animal Kingdom here that threw me into giggles a number of times. Chris Pratt and Alison Brie are delightful as the B couple, the goofier love story that runs parallel to the main pair. Although the editor lets some of their scenes drag needlessly long, they are incredibly charming. Pratt, from this performance and his instant-classic character on Parks & Recreation, is going to soon be a staple in these types of films, and Alison Brie is the next Amy Adams– expect her to have leads in three or four years in films just like this one.
Blunt, however, doesn’t fare as well. She is fair game and tries hard, but her sense of humor isn’t naturally warm and earnest– she strikes me as being perfect for roles a young Nicole Kidman or other icy actresses might play, but on many occasions I wondered if switching Alison Brie into the main role would’ve served the film better. Segel does his big goof routine per usual, but he doesn’t give himself as charming a character to play here as he did in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Tom is a passive aggressive martyr, who is so obsessed with being the “nice guy” that he absolutely wrecks his life for several years and grows horrifyingly bitter. While it may be true to what happens often in life, no one in the audience will care to watch it unless they believe the couple, and Segel and Blunt simply failed to get me on board.
The real reason this marriage doesn’t work, however, is Nick Stoller. If Stoller had any say at all over what footage went in and out of this film– and let’s assume after two notable comedy hits that he did– he should have told someone, “Keep this under 100 minutes, period.” A movie about lengthy suffering shouldn’t turn into an audience suffering lengthily. If the audience is sitting there going, “I want the camera to stay on Brian Posehn and Chris Parnell,” then your movie isn’t getting the job done. In previous Apatow films that worked, we were presented with flawed but vulnerable protagonists whose story we were invested in, so if the film spent an extra twenty minutes lingering on the supporting characters as they ad-lib, we forgave them since (a) the ad-libs were funny, and (b) since we care about the main storyline, we still feel like the time we are spending in the theater is worth the while. The Five-Year Engagement achieves point A, but point B doesn’t come close. There’s a better movie somewhere in this mess– ignoring the current trend of comedies could have helped The Five-Year Engagement be far more engaging.