The more I think about The Five-Year Engagement (2012), the less I like it. That’s not to say that the film is bad; in fact, it has quite a few good things going for it. There are plenty of laughs to be had, and there’s certainly an earnest quality that helps push it up above your normal, run-of-the-mill romantic comedy. But the more I reflect on it, the more I play the film over again in my head, the more I start to see the weaknesses floating to the surface—which probably means I should write this review as quickly as possible. Have you ever had those experiences when you watch a film for the first time and you completely buy in to it, only to watch it again some other time and be surprisingly disappointed that it hasn’t held up as well as you thought it would? I’m suspecting that this is one of those movies for me.
One thing that works is that the film tries to look beyond the tropes of the genre to examine real issues in real relationships. Jason Segel has made a good name for himself as both an actor and as a writer. With films like Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) and The Muppets (2011), he has shown that he has the ability to write effective comedies that contain a good amount of heart as well. Teaming up once again with co-writer/director Nicholas Stoller, Segel has provided yet another good movie, this one showing the ups and downs of being a couple, and involving people who have already found each other and are working to reach their happily ever after. Segel plays Tom, a successful and talented chef working in one of the finest restaurants in San Francisco. He is dating Violet (Emily Blunt), a psychology student working hard to get into a graduate program and make a career for herself. It’s no question that these two deeply love each other, quirks and all. When Tom accidentally lets Violet in on his plans to ask for her hand in marriage, she follows through with a big grin on her face. When he proposes with a ruby ring instead of a diamond one, she gets it and accepts with open arms (and we the audience go “awww” in unison).
You would think that everything is set up perfectly for Tom and Violet. Unfortunately, life gets in the way, and step by step, they push the wedding back further. It’s a culmination of many obstacles building on top of each other: she gets into a program in Michigan, which Tom gladly supports by leaving his job and moving there with her; their friends and family get married and have kids themselves; family members pass away—on and on it goes. Soon, resentments start to build, regret for not being able to make the other person happy starts to boil, the wrong thing is said, and the question becomes not when Tom and Violet will get married, but if. Now, the premise of the film is both its main strength and its main weakness. The writing allows both the characters to feel completely relatable. Neither Tom nor Violet is the “bad guy” in this situation; they both care and support each other, but do so knowing that it comes with a certain level of sacrifice. While the characters do come off as believable, the obstacles that stand in their way of marriage are so abundant that they reach the level of contrivance. Timing isn’t always exactly perfect, and often I wanted to yell at the screen “just go get married already!” There’s really nothing stopping them from getting hitched in Michigan (or anywhere else), no matter what the script tries to tell us.
While the issues of the premise work as both an advantage and as a disadvantage to the film, no debate can be made about the quality of the cast. Jason Segel and Emily Blunt make a perfect onscreen couple; they look and feel genuine with one another and their chemistry is undeniable. When one makes the other laugh, it didn’t look like “acting” to me. This is now the second film in a row where I’ve seen Emily Blunt make a case for herself to be a bigger name in the film world (the first being last year’s The Adjustment Bureau). She has a natural charisma about her; she’s effective while seeming effortless. Chris Pratt gets a lot of laughs as Alex, Tom’s best friend and co-worker. Alex is a supporting character you’ve seen many times before: crude, a bit idiotic, with no sense of self-restraint, but he sincerely cares for his friend and often times tells him exactly what he needs to hear instead of what he wants to hear. Only Alison Brie, who plays Violet’s sister Suzie, eclipses his performance. Her energy and enthusiasm steals nearly every scene that she’s in, and her skills in improv comedy I suspect will get the biggest responses out of the audience. The cast worked together exceptionally well here, you can tell that they enjoyed playing off one another.
Remember when I said that the more I thought about the film, the more I recognized its faults? Much of it has to do with the structuring. At 124 minutes, it felt much too long for being the kind of movie that it was. Perhaps the editing team could have had one more round tweaking it, because there were definitely scenes and montages that could have been shortened to make a tighter product. Maybe Segel and Stoller made it that expansive to make us feel as though we were trudging through the story along with the characters, but that only served to intensify my frustrations. One event after another got in their way, in an almost rhythmic fashion. Right when you believe that they have broken through and will finally get married, something else pops up at the last moment to prevent that from happening. Jokes are extended far longer than they should have been, which waters down their success, and issues are drawn out to the point of being hammered into our minds. There was a very good movie here (maybe even great), hidden beneath unnecessary filler, that could have emerged with a few extra trims around the edges.
Does The Five-Year Engagement eventually fall into the usual requirements that make a romantic comedy? Of course it does, and I do feel that the ending played up the “cute factor” a bit more than I would have liked. But at the end of the day, I feel people that walk into this movie will walk out having had their money’s worth of entertainment. Segel and Stoller were able to make a movie that reaches further than what you normally see in similar films, and while there are a number of problems with it, the good does outweigh the bad. We have characters here that want not just themselves to be happy, but the people around them to be happy as well, and they all stumble as they try to make things work. The film’s much more insightful and observant of relationships—not settling at simply pointing fingers, but attempting to understand each person’s perspective from a real place—while having us laugh as it slowly makes its way along. While I may not be in a hurry to see this movie again anytime soon, I did enjoy it for what it was at the time.
Final Grade: B