The Five-Year Engagement
Directed by Nicholas Stoller
Screenplay by Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller
Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Alison Brie, Chris Pratt
How long is The Five-Year Engagement? 124 minutes.
What is The Five-Year Engagement rated? R for sexual content, and language throughout.
Big laughs can’t save this meandering comedy.
In an industry where many actors, whether voluntarily or as a result of typecasting, choose the same type of role over and over again (ahem, Jason Statham and Jennifer Aniston), Jason Segel continually surprises audiences with his comic sensibilities as both an actor and writer. Segel has become a creative force in Hollywood due to his undeniable comedic talent. From his supporting role in Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up to his performance as the goofy Marshall Erickson on CBS’ How I Met Your Mother, Segel subtly adjusts his brand of humor for each character he approaches.
With his new film, The Five-Year Engagement, which he co-wrote with director Nicholas Stoller, Segel once again impresses with yet another great performance. Unfortunately, though, Stoller and Segel have too good of a time coming up with laughs and spend far too little time in the editing room. The Five-Year Engagement is hilarious from beginning to end, but the film, which runs over two hours, would significantly benefit from a few cuts. The script, while smart and funny, also suffers from serious story development problems and stalls many times throughout the film. Where Forgetting Sarah Marshall (which Segel wrote and Stoller directed) was a witty, quick-paced rom-com, The Five-Year Engagement ambles along like a jam band song that just won’t end.
Essentially, the film is about how life happens, plans can change and the only thing you can do is to roll with it. On their first anniversary as a couple, Tom (Segel) proposes to Violet (Emily Blunt) on the roof of the restaurant where he works as a chef. Despite Tom blurting out the plan on the drive over, Violet still wants the official proposal, which involves a little help from Tom’s best friend, Alex (Chris Pratt). Violet of course says yes, which is good since Tom had already given her the ring. As they begin planning their wedding, we meet Violet’s sister, Suzie (Alison Brie), whose staunch opposition to marriage changes slightly after an ill-advised encounter with Alex.
The first hitch in the couple’s plans comes when Violet gets an offer for a post-doctoral position at the University of Michigan, a world away from their home in San Francisco. Ever the supportive partner, Tom says she should take the position. Hey, it’s only two years, right? When they get to Michigan, though, Tom does not have the success he had in California. No restaurants are looking for a chef who trained at the Culinary Institute, so he’s left working at a sandwich shop albeit a very popular sandwich shop. Violet, on the other hand, thrives in her research and becomes the favorite pupil of Professor Winton Childs (Rhys Ifans).
Violet is offered an extension on her appointment which means they will have to stay in Michigan a while longer. Tom devolves into a shell of his former self, spending his time with his new buddies Tarquin (Brian Posehn) and Bill (Chris Parnell). He gives up shaving, takes up bow hunting and becomes quite fond of the sweaters Bill knits for him. Violet and Tom’s relationship begins to suffer, but neither really knows when their problems started or how to fix them.
In addition to Segel and Blunt, who is always fantastic, The Five-Year Engagement is filled with a terrific supporting cast. Pratt, who is consistently hilarious on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, here gives a solid performance as Tom’s wannabe lothario best friend. Brie, another TV veteran, has several wonderful scenes where she shows off her melodramatic skills and is a great counterpart to Blunt (even if her British accent is weaker than a tea-soaked biscuit). As Tom’s “we’ve given up on life” friends, Parnell and Posehn get some of the movie’s biggest laughs, especially Parnell whose character, Bill, is greatly enjoyed being a stay-at-home dad.
Even though she has only two or three scenes, Lauren Weedman, who plays Tom’s boss, Sally, steals the movie. Her tough and hardened exterior is fantastic and her take on marriage is priceless. What Bridesmaids did for Melissa McCarthy, hopefully The Five-Year Engagement will do for Weedman.
The film is undeniably funny, but Segel and Stoller try to fit far too much in what could have been a very simple romantic comedy. It takes far too long for Tom and Violet to see they have serious problems, and the way they handle them rings false. As the two drift apart, the film takes a tangent where Tom and Violet essentially begin living separate lives. Had the film focused on either the breakdown or the actual separation, the story would have felt tighter and more effective. In actuality, Segel and Stoller focus on almost every stage of the couple’s relationship equally, drawing out the inevitable reconciliation for what seems like eternity.
Luckily for the filmmakers, the cast of The Five-Year Engagement makes the movie endurable, but just barely. Segel and Stoller can’t really be blamed for not wanting to excise anything because it all works so well, but the aggregate of all those great moments ends up being overlong which is likely what most audiences will remember.
Matthew Newlin lives in St. Louis, Missouri and has been a film critic for over six years. He has written for numerous online media outlets, including “Playback:STL” and “The Weissman Report.” He holds a Master’s of Education in Higher Education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and is an Assistant Director of Financial Aid. A lifelong student of cinema, his passion for film was inherited from his father who never said “No, you can’t watch that.”