It’s a bit over-stuffed, but the narrative does come full-circle and successfully balances charming comedy gags grounded in a memorable and contemporary love story.
Judd Apatow has become one of the biggest names in Hollywood comedy – largely because of his ability to blend over-the-top gags with heartfelt character stories. In one way or another – as writer, director, or producer, Apatow has been connected to hits that include Bridesmaids, Pineapple Express, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Knocked Up, along with plenty more. That said, not every Apatow-produced film has been a slam-dunk with audiences (we’re looking at you Funny People, you too Year One) and, as a result, the filmmaker has seen his fair share of box office (and critical) bombs.
Is The Five-Year Engagement - directed by Nicholas Stoller (Get Him to the Greek) and starring “camp Apatow” veteran Jason Segel and rising starlett Emily Blunt – another memorable and laugh-out-loud entry in the Apatow’s stable of hits?
Fortunately, The Five-Year Engagement is set to deliver plenty of fun and heart for moviegoers – since it draws from the traditional, but not yet stale, elements that have made prior Apatow-backed films so successful. The movie offers plenty of awkward and raunchy gags, but never strays too far away from the charming, and at times emotionally draining, core storyline. This isn’t to say that The Five-Year Engagement is depressing – because it’s mostly light-hearted fun – but Stoller doesn’t pull any punches and, despite their love for one another, both Tom (Segel) Violet (Blunt) are faced with more than a few heart-breaking moments.
Of course, the filmmaker’s commitment to the more challenging aspects of love is also the film’s greatest strength. In a genre that’s packed-full of gross-out humor, low-brow gags, or shallow fairytale romances, it’s becoming increasingly rare to find a romantic comedy that’s not just relatable, but also capable of saying something intelligent about modern relationships.
What’s more “modern” than meeting your soulmate at a “make your own superhero”-themed New Year’s Eve party? The Five-Year Engagement storyline begins as Tom and Violet transition from that chance encounter to an engagement one year later. The pair are flourishing in San Francisco where Tom is quickly rising through the ranks as a chef in one of the Bay Area’s nicest restaurants, while Violet anxiously awaits word from Berkley – where she applied for entry into a graduate program in Social Psychology. However, when Violet gets accepted into Michigan instead, Tom passes on a prestigious Head Chef promotion and the pair move to Ann Arbor so that Violet can complete the two-year grad program. Violet flourishes in Michigan but Tom has trouble finding meaningful work; meanwhile, the pair’s wedding plans are routinely pushed-back. Tom takes the up and downs in stride – until Violet is offered a distinguished fellowship that could keep the pair in Michigan indefinitely.
As mentioned, The Five-Year Engagement is an Apatow-style comedy film at nearly every turn, with a pair of central leads that deliver enjoyable and moving performances – not just setups for comedy gags. Neither Segel nor Blunt are breaking new ground in the roles of Tom and Violet, respectively, but the pair succeed in showcasing a range of emotional moments that never come across as melodramatic or, on the other extreme, hollow. Whether in love or out of love, the dynamic between Tom and Violet never gets stale – even when the couple hangs on the verge of collapse. The result is a captivating look at a relationship between two ambitious young adults who are trying to find the right balance between self-sacrifice and self-destruction – while trying to hold on to that initial spark.
The ensemble bench of supporting talent is equally strong, with appearances from Mindy Kaling, Randall Park, Kevin Hart, Rhys Ifans, Alison Brie, Chris Pratt, Jim Piddock – as well as a handful of other players that moviegoers will likely recognize from their favorite TV shows and films. Not all of the characters get as much time in the spotlight as others, but everyone has a moment or two to shine, and no one is forced into the production just for a cheap laugh. By the end, Ifans’ role as Winton Childs is a little uneven and doesn’t always earn his moments – which makes it hard to interpret the character’s actions at various points (though the actor does a solid job with what he’s given). Brie and Pratt, who play Violet’s sister (Suzie) and Tom’s best friend (Alex), are especially entertaining - showcasing veteran comedy timing and, in the case of Brie, a pretty slick British (and Elmo) accent.
However, like many Apatow-produced movies, some viewers may find that the film’s 124 minute runtime starts to drag by the end. Instead of a traditional three-act structure, The Five Year Engagement more closely resembles a four part project – or, being a little more direct, a film with an overly-long closing act. While the ups and downs of the story are all interesting, packed with solid one-liners and enjoyable comedy set-pieces, as a full movie the overall experience could, for some viewers, become a bit drawn-out. It’s easy to understand why Stoller spent the extra time – because it serves the core storyline – but the movie is likely to feel overly-long (especially because the final half-hour also has fewer laughs per minute).
Despite a few hiccups, it’s easy to recommend The Five-Year Engagement – especially since the film’s shortcomings don’t detract all that much for the overall experience. It’s a bit over-stuffed, but the narrative does come full-circle and successfully balances charming comedy gags grounded in a memorable and contemporary love story.
If you’re still on the fence about The Five-Year Engagement, check out the trailer below:
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The Five-Year Engagement is rated R for sexual content and language throughout. Now playing in theaters.