The Five-Year Engagement, 2012.
Directed by Nicolas Stoller.
Starring Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Alison Brie and Chris Pratt.
|We made Bridesmaids. Remember Bridesmaids? You liked that, right?|
Tom and Violet are engaged, but circumstance stalls actual marriage.
Of all the Judd Apatow-influenced comedies – The 40-Year Old Virgin (Steve Carell), Knocked Up (Seth Rogen), Funny People (Adam Sandler) – Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Jason Segel) feels the most sincere. It was painful, yet bittersweet.
The Five-Year Engagement has the same players: Judd Apatow as producer, Nicolos Stoller directing and Jason Segel as its protagonist. The latter two are also the film’s writers, and the theme is similarly bittersweet. A couple, Tom (Jason Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt), get engaged on New Year’s Eve. They’re to be married soon, but circumstance conspires against them. Violet’s sister, Suzie, (played with a wandering English accent by Community’s otherwise fantastic Alison Brie) becomes involved with Tom’s crude best friend, Alex (Chris Pratt), at their engagement party. Suzie and Alex take the spotlight for a while, so Tom and Violet’s marriage gets postponed a little. Theirs will be better.
Then there’s Violet’s pending job offer from Berkley University, handy because the couple live in San Francisco. Every day she checks the mail, her focus split between planning the wedding and worrying over her career.
This causes the most significant of the delays. Violet is rejected by Berkley, yet accepted by Michigan, a climate away from their sunny Frisco life and, more importantly, Tom’s job as a Sous-Chef. It’ll only be for two years, Violet excitedly promises. In two years they’ll move back to San Francisco. In two years they can get married. Though once there, in cold, snowy Michigan, where the only restaurants are minimum-wage takeaways and delicatessens, those two years start to look pretty long.
Violet, however, is in her element, yet aware of Tom’s quiet resentment. It’s a horrible situation for all. Bloody circumstance. It’s particularly affecting because they’re all such nice people. Much of the film’s first third is devoted to showcasing how happy Tom and Violet are. Their banter is heartwarming and they seem to have intercourse (which Violet weirdly calls “getting weird”) every other scene. They’re surrounded by family and friends, all of whom are ecstatic about the pending wedding. So when things start to sour, as Tom grows his beard long from boredom, as Violet becomes more involved in her work, further and further isolating them from each other, your heartstrings are tugged downwards to your gut.
The problem with The Five-Year Engagement, though, is the same that most Apatow films suffer – it’s far too long. Many scenes would be far more effective by having their last few lines shaved off, where others could be cut altogether. It drags at the film’s comic timing, and often results in scenes not concluding at their funniest. Instead they stumble onwards with a few more punchlines, each a little more forced than the last.
It’s symptomatic of the improvisation that Apatow has made his signature. Perhaps the filmmakers became too attached to a piece of dialogue, remembering how funny it was on set, or maybe it’s because the editor is faced with making a two minute scene from ten-or-so differing takes.
It also affects the script’s focus. If a film is mainly composed in post-production, it can lack the consistent motifs instilled at the writing stage. In one scene, Tom’s mother delivers a wonderfully droll line about his new, rather young girlfriend. “She probably doesn’t even know who The Beatles are.” Later on, when Tom forces himself to break up with her, the question looms in the air. “What’s your…favourite Beatles song?” he should ask cautiously, but the oppurtunity is missed. Sometimes improvisation works, but more often it lacks focus. In Forgetting Sarah Marshall, there is hardly a wasted scene. Likewise in The 40-Year Old Virgin. Knocked Up, Funny People, and now The Five-Year Engagement, however, could all have benefitted from a more brutal editor.
Yet ultimately, The Five-Year Engagement still maintains a sincerity that the Apatow-pretenders lack. Both Jason Segel and Emily Blunt are awkwardly charming in their roles, and the ending does much to gloss over the rest of the film’s bloatedness. Despite its length, and that it’s not as funny as it should be, The Five-Year Engagement still sits warmly in my upper-right atrium.
Blunt and Segel currently adorn most of the double decker buses in London. Strangely, I feel as though I should wave…
The Five-Year Engagement is released in UK cinemas on June 22nd.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★