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The Five-Year Engagement (2012)

August 28, 2012

written by: Jason Segel & Nicholas Stoller

produced by: Judd Apatow, Rodney Rothman and Nicholas Stoller

directed by: Nicholas Stoller

rating: R (for sexual content, and language throughout)

runtime: 124 min. 

U.S. release date: April 27, 2012

DVD/Blu-ray release: August 28. 2012


Wedding movies have their own sub-genre classification in the film industry’s rom-com genre, complete with their expected recycled formulaic plots and implausibilities.  Rarely does anyone behave realistically and hardly ever do circumstances work out as they would in real life, making it a challenge for audiences to relate or even care what they are watching on-screen. Sure, some viewers may gravitate to the comfort of the conventions the genre provides, but after a while, one can watch Katherine Heigl and/or Gerald Butler fall in and out of love only so many times. Good thing we have “The Five-Year Engagement”, a movie that wears its Apatowian silliness with a goofy grin and opens with Dexy’s Midnight Runners covering “Jackie Wilson Said”. It thankfully gifts us with two realistic leads, who aren’t necessarily knock-outs but are utterly endearing, as it zigs instead of zags through familiar territory.

It may still have some of the R-rated comedic tropes we’ve come to expect from Team Apatow:  the over-emphasized foul language, the improvisational comedy, and the lengthy runtime – but something is different.

That something could be how “The Five-Year Engagement” happens to be the most mature comedy to date from actor/writer Jason Segel and director/writer Nicholas Stoller (re-teaming after “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and”Get Him to the Greek”), even though it still features Segel’s butt cheeks once again. It’s also because the writers take their time developing relatable themes and trust that their titular engaged couple will exude an identifiable warmth and appeal – and that they do.

Tom Solomon (Jason Segel) is a talented chef living in San Francisco, a guy who’s prepared to propose to Violet (Emily Blunt) an aspiring professor and girlfriend of one year. The two seem like they’d be an unlikely pair, but they are undeniably adorable together. She accepts his proposal and the two start planning their ceremony. At their engagement party, Tom’s best friend Alex (Chris Pratt, “Moneyball”) hooks up with Violet’s sister, Suzie (Alison Brie) and their relationship moves unintentionally faster than Tom and Violet’s. Were they more in love or just madly impulsive?



But Tom and Violet have a good reason to put off locking down a date. She gets offered an incredible opportunity at University of Michigan that’s just too good to pass up. Tom is on board and agrees to put off his prestigious career at a hot sushi joint to support hers. After all, it’s only going to be two years, right?

Well, there’s a big difference between Ann Arbor and the City by the Bay, a change that takes a toll on one half of the engaged couple more than the other. Violet is immersed in the vitality of campus life, with friendly colleagues (Mindy Kaling, Kevin Hart and Randall Park) and a professor (Rhys Ifans, “The Amazing Spider-Man”) who shows more than a collegiate interest in her. Meanwhile, Tom is only able to find a gig at a local sandwich shop and has a hard time adapting to the ways of Midwest brotherhood as exemplified by a couple of the quirky locals (Brian Posehn and Chris Parnell). As Violet continues to thrive, Tom sinks into a foggy funk, growing an unruly beard and wearing tacky handmade sweaters.

Their two-year commitment to Michigan life turns into five (hence the title), which finds the once-happy couple inevitably facing how they truly feel about where they’re at geographically, with their careers, and where their love is. Can they get back to where they once were? If so, what’s it gonna take? They better do something soon, because the altar is starting to seem like a moving target at a carnival.

What has “The Five-Year Engagement” rising above all the other crappy rom-coms out there is how it focuses more on a couple’s eccentricities than a meet-cute-downward spiral. Tom and Violet are already together when the movie begins. We see how natural they are together (all due to surprisingly fine chemistry between Segel and Blunt) as well as warm and accommodating they  are with each other. We do see how the pair hooked-up at a costume party (which reminded me of last year’s “Beginners”) in flashbacks, Segel as a pink bunny suit and Blunt as Princess Diana (a dead ringer), which serves more as a recollection of how great things used to be, rather than origin fluff. I was quite impressed how genuine and real this relationship felt.

Granted, there’s a good deal of silliness, but at the core, these two actors accurately convey the ups and downs of a committed couple. The scenes that exemplify this the most are the ones involving job woes and the challenging pillow talk the two have. Again, it just feels real. So then when the hilarity is increased in the middle of the film, mostly when Tom gets lost in Midwestern stereotypes (he’s hunting!), it feels a tad forced. At least the Ann Arbor scenes were actually filmed in Ann Arbor and not up in the Great White North, I’ll give them that.

Another minor weakness comes when we witness the story fall into the break-up-to-get-back-together cliché. Understandably, the goal is to have the audience feel how miserable they are apart, but they didn’t have to make it feel like real-time. There were moments where I found myself just hoping and waiting for these two to reunite, because of the combination of their prolonged misery and the obvious inevitability of the movie’s conclusion. Clearly, the two are better off together – and so is the audience.



A surprising aspect of the film was how I actually stopped and noticed what was going on with the cinematography. You don’t experience that often in rom-coms. Not that Javier Aguirresarobe (“Fright Night” and “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse”) is going for an indie look, but the way he handles lighting, the change of seasons and the locations is quite beautiful at times. That’s not something one would expect from a mainstream feature.

Many will see this poster or watch the trailer for “The Five-Year Engagement” and just dismiss it as yet another annoying addition to a generally painful genre. That’s unfair. Besides two great leads, the film offers a fine ensemble cast (at times Pratt and Brie steal the movie) with actors like Oscar-nominee Jacki Weaver (“Animal Kingdom”) and David Paymer (“City Slickers”)showing up. I could see this one gathering some good word-of-mouth in years to come. It just might take that long.

At a little over two hours, “The Five-Year Engagement” feels kind of long, but then again I’m under the belief that five years is a long time to be engaged.







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