The comedy brain of Stoller and Segel return with a romantic comedy that is as sinister as it is long.
Last year, Jason Segel told us that he and frequent collaborator Nicholas Stoller “share a comedy brain”. It is a mind of many laughs, with the pair already behind bona fide modern classics Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek and last year’s The Muppets. So the reunion of this dream team for a comedy with Emily Blunt, Segel’s co-star of the Stoller-penned Gulliver’s Travels, seemed like a surefire recipe for success. The Five-Year Engagement is apparently a practical exercise in the course of true love not running smoothly.
Up and coming sous chef Tom (Jason Segel) and psychology post-doc Violet (Emily Blunt) are a happy couple who decide to get engaged after a year together. However, their pending nuptials are interrupted when Violet’s sister Suzie (Alison Brie) gets pregnant to Tom’s best friend Alex (Chris Platt), and their wedding takes a backseat to the shotgun nuptials. Things get further delayed when Violet is offered a post-doctoral position in Michigan under the suave professor Winton Childs (Rhys Ifans), forcing Tom to uproot from his San Francisco home and job to support Violet. As their marriage is again put on hold, the nature of their relationship changes.
In a mere 124 minutes, The Five-Year Engagement bends time and space by seemingly playing out its premise in real time. Segel and Blunt have proven in the past that they have great chemistry together, even through the stilted and unnatural performances of Gulliver’s Travels. While there is still some of that magic here, particularly in the easy back-and-forth the pair share, any magic between the two of them seems comparatively forced. Yet unlike most rom-coms, this isn’t a film about falling in love, and by the time we first meet them they are already very much in love. The film follows the trials and tribulations of staying in love, although it never quite decides whether it wants to be a comedy or a soppy dramatic romance. While it is true that a film can be both things, Segel and Stoller’s script never seems confident in its own drama. Whenever a tender moment is shared between any two characters, it is quite literally punctuated with a dick joke or potty-level humour. This is especially true of Chris Pratt, and Community‘s Alison Brie is simply wasted as a run-of-the-mill and frequently hysterical character.
There are, of course, moments of great hilarity. Tom’s descent from supportive partner to stay-at-home wilderness man is a running gag throughout the film, and plays to Segel’s natural strengths as a comedian. Of course, it comes with an awkward implication about man’s natural place not being in domesticity, with Violet’s career success partly to blame for his ‘softening’. Indeed, apart from one readily dismissed infraction, Segel has written his character in a far more positive light than Blunt’s, making the final act something of an uncomfortable drag. Carrying the film on long after the happy ending is a foregone conclusion, The Five-Year Engagement gets quite dark in its lead-up to the denouement, confusing sinister for subversive. A noble attempt at doing something different with the genre, just not an entirely successful one.