Mark Reviews Movies

The Five-Year Engagement


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Nicholas Stoller

Cast: Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, Rhys Ifans

MPAA Rating: R (for sexual content, and language throughout)

Running Time: 2:04

Release Date: 4/27/12

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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 26, 2012

Spattered throughout the comic bits that range from the pleasant to the profane—the innocent to the, in one instance, violent—that constitute The Five-Year Engagement are some simple but hard truths. People's lives don't usually turn out the way they expected, and it's even more rare for them to turn out the way they wanted. A romantic relationship is more than a collection of feelings; it takes work. That work is especially difficult when two people, with very different goals, find themselves in a situation when the means for one person's goals conflict with the other person's ambitions.

We've seen these truths repeatedly play out in romantic comedies, and the question is usually whether they seem honest or appear to be just a compilation of convolutions that keep the lovers apart or put so much tension upon them that their entire relationship is at stake. Director Nicholas Stoller and star Jason Segel's screenplay pulls off a neat little trick to bypass the entire conversation: The film is not so much a linear blow-by-blow account of the rise and fall (and, of course, rise again) of a romance but an episodic view of a relationship throughout the years.

The couple fondly remembers their first meeting at a New Year's Eve party a few times in the film, and the rest of the story has the same feeling of memories being created. Like the tale of a man dressed as a bunny superhero and a woman dressed as Princess Diana that they tell whenever anyone asks how they met, each scene in the film is its own little vignette—of happiness, of pain, of utter absurdity—that paints a larger picture for us of their lives together.

As such, the screenplay is really a series of comic sketches—about psychology students coming up with new ways to mess with people in the name of science and a guy who will do just about anything to reclaim his manhood—that ultimately show just how far apart Tom (Jason Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt) grow as the years pass in montage. They started out so happy, too.

Tom and Violet are so in love that he can barely contain himself as he's driving toward the place where he has set up an elaborate plan to propose to her. After he can no longer hold in the information, she insists that he follow through with the plan anyway—partly because she wants the production but also because she wants him to have his moment.

It's an enjoyable sequence, with Tom's best friend Alex (Chris Pratt) pretending that he's lost some receipts for the restaurant at which the two work and bringing them to a secluded patio with candles and music and a gorgeous nighttime view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Everyone's awkwardness in going ahead with the scheme despite Violet's knowledge is representative of the film's primary tone of humor; Tom's boss (Lauren Weedman) bursting in on the scene to reprimand him in the harshest possible terms for calling in sick just as he's about to pop the question is characteristic of the film's tendency to cut through the treacle before it gets too gooey.

No one else really seems to buy into the couple's sentimentality. At the engagement party, friends and family at the microphone can't help but deflate the festivities. Tom's parents (David Paymer and Mimi Kennedy) remind him—in rhyme, no less—that his grandmother would have loved to see him get married (The sudden death of elderly family members becomes a demented running joke). Violet's father (Jim Piddock) notes that two things require commitment: marriage and insanity. Her mother (Jacki Weaver), now divorced from Violet's dad, only half-jokes that love never turns out like it does in the movies. Only Violet's sister Suzie (Alison Brie) is moved by their engagement, even though she wants nothing to do with marriage; a late-night encounter with Alex changes that within nine months.

The film's balance of the cynical and the sweet is one of its more endearing qualities (The cast is its most). The two have reason to be cynical, as well, even though they don't realize it at first. Violet is accepted to continue her education in Michigan. Tom has no qualms about the move; surely, he imagines, he will be able to find a job as a chef at a restaurant of the same level as the ones available to him in San Francisco. While Violet's career takes off under the tutelage of a rock star professor (Rhys Ifans), Tom is stuck making sandwiches at a local deli and takes up hunting, growing a ludicrous beard, and knitting to compensate for his lost dreams.

The jokes rarely stop here, and Stoller somehow manages to maintain a semblance of consistency between the ones with their foundation in the characters (Alex' completely inappropriate, singing tribute to his friend using a slideshow of Tom's past lovers, Violet's odd classmates, and a chase and fight in which Tom is hopelessly outmatched) and the situational ones (a crossbow left on a table with a curious child roaming the house, a food fight as foreplay, and amputation—yes, you read that last one right). Even with the barrage of gags, there are still some frank moments in The Five-Year Engagement that keep the film levelheaded, like an argument between Tom and Violet in bed that allows them to say everything that's on their mind. Just for balance, though, Tom's mom is not as polite when she speaks her mind.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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