There’s an awesome movie buried somewhere deep inside The Five-Year Engagement. Sadly, I’m not so sure you’ll have the patience to search for it.
I’m a huge fan of director Nicholas Stoller’s first feature Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and I’m inclined to say his third movie The Five-Year Engagement is in contention for Marshall‘s cult status. Unfortunately, Engagement deals less in quality of jokes and more in quantity.
That’s not to say there aren’t numerous insanely funny moments; they’re just peppered intermittently within a stretched-out narrative. Marshall‘s genius is that it doesn’t deal in any particularly new or original thematics, it just critiques them with heart, humor and brevity — and the message is relayed via engaging characters embodied by gifted comedic actors.
Engagement also serves up a conventional story, and its cast is undoubtedly as equipped as Marshall‘s. However, the key difference is that it spends too much time on two things: the aforementioned ho-hum plot and the improvisational moments before and after the punchlines. It’s frustrating to watch, eliciting big laughs that peter out into halfhearted pity chuckles.
Even more exasperating, it’s clear from the very beginning that The Five-Year Engagement has its heart in the right place. And by heart, I mean its central characters Violet (Emily Blunt) and Tom (Jason Segel). An enviably in-love couple, the two share their own silly secret language, a communicative bond and that “us against the world” demeanor most could only dream of. But after they become engaged, Violet accepts a graduate school job at the University of Michigan and Tom joins her, uprooted from his promising culinary position in San Francisco.
What transpires is a series of events that delays their impending nuptials, much to the chagrin of Violet’s parents, grandparents, sister Suzie (the adorable Alison Brie) and brother-in-law (and Tom’s best friend) Alex (Parks & Recreation’s Chris Pratt). The couple’s carefully crafted inner fortress begins crumbling when standard roles are reversed, placing Violet in the position of power, while Tom’s career (and mental state) takes a swan dive.
Blessedly, The Five-Year Engagement doesn’t hop on a soapbox to preach about gender roles. It’s due a fair amount of credit for interjecting humor into what could easily be dry, orthodox conversations (an argument between Violet and Tom in bed, along with a Sesame Street-voiced spat between Violet and Suzie are particular stand-outs in this regard). But it lends far too much time to Tom’s depression, delving into one particular foray involving the myriad uses of his newfound deer-hunting skills, among other aimless punctuation points we could do without.
For every two ambling moments, though, there is at least one riotous punchline, credited substantially to the supporting cast, which includes Mindy Kaling, Randall Park and Kevin Hart (as Violet’s classmates), Brian Posehn (Tom’s boss at a local deli), Brie and Pratt.
When all’s said and done, though, The Five-Year Engagement gets lost in its own maze. Moments of modernity and improvisational genius are hidden among winding corridors of dry narrative (and an ending that seems to counteract every message the film previously served up). If you’re a vehement fan of Stoller, Blunt, Segel or Brie, you might conjure the patience to stick with this one. If not, the two-hour run time will probably feel more like five years.
The Five-Year Engagement opens today nationwide.
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