By Joel Massie
Co-Author: Mike A. Massie
No groundbreaking ideas or themes are presented in The Five-Year Engagement, but that doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining. Spurts of slapstick, a dash of vulgar humor, generous helpings of uncomfortable awkwardness, and a pinch of melodrama seasons the film with a cross of genres and unexpected laughs. Although moments of sudden darkness cloud the generally light-hearted mood, the greatest achievement for writer/star Jason Segel and writer/director Nicholas Stoller is that the characters are never despicable and retain a likeability that typically shirks away from roles designed to have dramatic, dynamic ups and downs.
Tom Solomon (Jason Segel) and Violet Barnes (Emily Blunt) are madly in love. Despite a repeatedly botched proposal, they are destined to be wed. But what starts as a short engagement with immediate marriage planning eventually gets stretched into a couple of years. The lovers decide to move away from Tom’s successful sous-chef job in San Francisco so that Violet can pursue a psychology career at the University of Michigan. Head professor Winton Childs (Rhys Ifans) manages to extend Violet’s position there, spreading the engagement into a five-year stretch that weighs heavily on Tom’s contentment and Violet’s ability to handle his perceived lack of success in the new environment.
With most of Segel’s comedies, embarrassing situations and an inescapable level of coarseness replace genuine creative humor. This film is no exception, frequently using sexual jokes, carnal activities, venereal insinuations, and Segel’s own seemingly contractually obligated nudity to fuel the hilarity. The dialogue supports this brand of badinage, although fortunately it’s the underlying allusions to psychological analysis that stand out when the wit is weak. Commentary on the different ways men and women cope with problems is particularly intuitive. Also, one of Violet’s focuses in the psychology department is to conduct an experiment in which subjects fill out forms about their personal stresses. They are then observed either eating stale donuts, or waiting for fresh ones to arrive, after being falsely informed that such new refreshments would be provided. She determines that people with troubled pasts are more likely to snag an old donut than those without turmoil in their lives. Throughout the film, occasionally quite blatantly, the notion that Tom and Violet’s relationship correlates to the donut experiment arises. Indeed, many of the relationships depicted in the movie are representative of wanting something new or being content with something that is imperfect yet satisfying in the moment.
The conclusion wraps up all the dilemmas too neatly, utilizing contrived methods of repairing debacles and adding nonsensical solutions of pure fantasy. It’s still affable in production despite the strict adherence to the romantic comedy formula, never betraying the sense of general decency about the characters (even the love triangle is broken up without the antagonist resorting to anything unusually cruel). The supporting roles of Chris Pratt as moronic buddy Alex, Alison Brie as crybaby sister Suzie, Chris Parnell as a stay-at-home dad/devoted hunter, and Brian Posehn as a candidly foul-mouthed deli employee are largely more memorable than the leads (although Blunt is always watchable). A scene in which Blunt and Brie converse while imitating Cookie Monster and Elmo, respectively, is impressively silly and probably the most unforgettable skit. Suzie essentially sums up the familiar joviality of The Five-Year Engagement when pep-talking Violet into showing some enthusiasm: “This is your wedding! You only get a few of these.”
- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)
The Massie Twins are identical twin film critics who have been professionally reviewing movies full time for over 5 years, appearing on TV, radio, online and in print. They are members of the Phoenix Film Critics Society and the Internet Film Critic Society and their work can be seen at GoneWithTheTwins.com
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