11 July 2012

Movie Review: The Five-Year Engagement


The Five-Year Engagement
2012, 124mins, 15
Director: Nicholas Stoller 
Writer (s): Nicholas Stoller, Jason Segel 
Cast includes: Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, Rhys Ifans, Mindy Kaling, Jacki Weaver, Chris Parnell 
UK Release Date: 22nd June 2012

“The Five-Year Engagement” is an inventive, affecting and novel motion picture, a triple helping of positives that go a long way to overshadowing its minor deficiencies. Penned by Jason Segel and director Nicholas Stoller (the same duo behind 2008’s “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”), the film starts with the happy ending most rom-coms climax on, the majority of the picture more interested in the strains and honest heartaches that can accompany the promise of lifelong companionship. It’s this perspective that grants the joint its most potent weapon, offering audiences something that they don’t get to glimpse very often, especially when accompanied by such a humorous tone. There are severe pacing issues toward the end (the last act feels a quarter of an hour too long), but the well-defined characters and set-pieces are compensation enough.

Violet (Emily Blunt) and Tom (Jason Segel) are engaged to be married 12 months after meeting at a party. Initially delighted and whipped into an excitable frenzy of wedding preparation, the pair are forced to reconsider their immediate plans when Violet receives a post at the University of Michigan, forcing a relocation from San Francisco. Tom has to leave his respected culinary job behind, struggling to find work in their new home, eventually having to settle for an easy gig below his skill level. Violet on the other hand flourishes, a sharp contrast with the depression and worthlessness overcoming her husband to be. As the years role by, the wedding finds itself delayed even further, leaving the once inseparable couple to ponder if a life apart would be a more appropriate pathway.

The film’s narrative is bloated and a variety of supporting players duck in and out almost at the drop of a hat – possibly too many. Some of the added spice works (both Alison Brie and Chris Pratt are enjoyable as the unlikely wedded couple of Violet’s sister and Tom’s vulgar buddy) but others (namely a buffet of parental types) just don’t leave much of an impression, yet they greedily devour screen time. This scrappy approach prolongs the venture unnecessarily, yet in spots the messiness actually adds an organic touch to the central romance, helping to ground the relationship in reality and to depict the passing of years effectively. “The Five-Year Engagement” almost feels like a saga, a long and random assortment of events that enthral on the back of their believability and the three dimensional character concepts.

The laughs aren’t as regular as they were in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, but I think that’s intentional. “The Five-Year Engagement” still throws up an above average giggle quota, but it’s the human romance that seems to intrigue the film-makers most, prioritizing dramatic facets over comedic ones. In that respect it reminded me of 2009’s “Funny People”, marking a directorial maturation for Stoller in the same way the aforementioned movie did for Judd Apatow. There’s still plenty of extreme goofiness and anarchic improvisation to revel in, but ultimately “The Five-Year Engagement” impresses most when taking itself seriously, which is thankfully more often than not.

Both Blunt and Segel are terrific. They’re extremely affable and feel compatible for each other, a sensible touch that further sells the film’s soulful core. The actors have the sort of warm, enthusiastic and naturalistic rapport which a couple in love would likely possess, utilizing the subtle tics of the screenplay to depict the relationship slowly falling into disrepair. The trials and tribulations forced in front of them aren’t extraordinary (dubiously intentioned co-workers and hygiene depleting misery for instance) yet the truthful conviction of the performances and the movie’s brave tone sell it all marvellously. The emotions that “The Five-Year Engagement” presents feel genuine and authentic, much in the same way as “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”.

Unlike several other recent R-rated comedies (just last summer we had the box-office stomping likes of “Bridesmaids”, “Horrible Bosses” and “The Hangover” sequel) “The Five-Year Engagement” doesn’t seem to have caught audience fascination in the same way, posting disappointing returns when it opened theatrically in the USA  a few months back. That’s a shame, because this is a far more grown-up effort than any of those flicks, rewarding viewers with a sweet and tangy drama, not just belly laughs. Hopefully when it rolls out on DVD and Blu-Ray the production will solicit the love it deserves, primarily because it deviates at least somewhat from the traditional norm, a gambit I feel that demands more rewarding with each passing year. 

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012


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