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Five-Year Engagement, The

Reviewed By Brett Gallman
Posted 05/06/12 16:41:34

"Too long to be fully engaging."
3 stars (Just Average)

Like its title suggests, “The Five Year Engagement” is unnaturally prolonged; by artificially forcing in more conflict in addition to what’s already offered by its title, it sags and wears out its welcome about 90 minutes through. Even though it’s hardly bereft of laughs even after that point, the stakes become unhinged by predictable and unneeded rom-com beats that turn a funny, enjoyable premise into a tedious sitcom.

All of the film’s good will isn’t completely squandered by this--the leads (Jason Segel and Emily Blunt) are too affable and playing too loosely to not have a good time with them. He’s Tom, a chef looking to open his own restaurant in San Francisco; she’s Violet, a grad student who’s sure she’s headed to Berkeley. Instead, she’s accepted to Michigan’s post-grad program, so the two have to move and delay their nuptials for a couple of years.

This alone offers enough humor: grandparents die to comedic effect, Violet’s sister (a show-stealing Alison Brie) gets knocked-up by Tom’s buddy (Chris Pratt), and Tom adjusts to the wintry Michigan doldrums. Nicholas Stoller has assembled a terrific cast that’s matched with a screenplay full of funny moments for each, and Stoller even seems a little loath to cut any of them. You can hardly blame him since most of them are at least chuckle worthy; I had reservations about the transition to Michigan because Brie and Pratt are perfect, zany compliments to the lead couple, but (thankfully) they show up throughout, and a fine assortment of characters continue to be introduced as the film forges ahead. Between Violet’s trio of fellow graduate students (Kevin Hart, Mindy Kaling, and Randal Park) and Tom’s newfound buddies (Brian Posehn and Chris Parnell), there’s plenty of opportunities for absurd, non-sequitur asides and raunchy gags.

Despite playing the “straights” to a bunch of oddballs, Segel and Blunt still manage to be sneakily funny. Inhabiting the role of a lovable, slightly down-on-his luck oaf who gets an out-of-his-league girl is old hat for Segel, who does this as well as anyone. Blunt’s a little bit more untested in this genre, but she holds her own and shines throughout with wit and confidence. As a duo, these two fulfill all the duties of a good-natured rom-com couple, and the film even smartly explores how even the best of relationships can experience friction from the type of compromise Tom makes. Once the head of a swanky San Francisco kitchen, he’s reduced to a sandwich artist at a local dive, and the adjustment is less than smooth.

But despite this, the two seem level-headed and mature enough to whether it, and you indeed want them to, which is why you wince as soon as Violet’s pretentious professor (Rhys Ifans) wanders into the picture. At that point, the only suspense comes from whether or not this script is smart enough to avoid the obvious. It isn’t, and “The Five-Year Engagement” goes on a lengthy, ill-fitting tangent that isn’t earned so much as it’s wedged in out of obligation. Just about anything that carries Judd Apatow’s name (he produces here) comes with some length, and this detour is the first time I’ve ever really felt that length. By taking such an obvious path, it only sets itself up for an even more obvious resolution, where you’re only left wondering who’s going to show up on the other’s doorstep by the time the movie ends.

Granted, the film recovers with a funnier-than-expected wrap-up for its final conflict and sticks its landing. Had it come thirty minutes earlier than it does, “The Five-Year Engagement” might have been a great, minor Apatow production along the lines of Stoller’s “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” because there is so much to like here. I know I’ve already mentioned them twice, but Brie and Pratt are especially great, so much so that I wouldn’t mind seeing a spin-off with these two at some point.

Instead, I’ll likely remember “The Five-Year Engagement” as being passable enough but too long for its own good. Sometimes, you need to know when to pull your punch(line), and this film doesn’t.

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