With Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, Rhys Ifans. Written by Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller. Directed by Nicholas Stoller. Rated R (for sexual content, and language throughout). 124 minutes.
There’s a wonderful 90-minute romantic comedy in THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT, but because Judd Apatow (“Funny People”) is one of the producers, it lumbers along for 124 minutes. Why everyone seems to be afraid to tell him his movies need to be more tightly edited remains a mystery. He needs to learn the wisdom of the show business axiom, “Always leave them wanting more.”
Jason Segel (who co-wrote the script with director Nicholas Stoller) plays Tom, who works as a sous-chef in a San Francisco restaurant and dreams of having his own place. At the start of the film he proposes to his girlfriend of one year, Violet (Emily Blunt). They’re adorable. Their friends and family are eccentric. We’re off to a good start.
Complications ensue when Violet gets a post-doctoral appointment to the University of Michigan, and Tom agrees to put his career and their marriage plans on hold for a couple of years so she can take advantage of this fantastic opportunity. Of course, he isn’t able to find such opportunities for himself and ends up working in a local deli. By reminding us of how devoted they are as a couple, the movie avoids the trap of making this a comedy about Tom being continually humiliated. Indeed, they both find themselves in strange situations and making the most of their opportunities.
At this point you may start noticing plot threads not leading anywhere, like a few lines dealing with Tom and Violet’s religious differences. You may even have begun to suspect that no thought at all has been given to focusing the material. By the time we get to the painfully obvious plot manipulations which require Tom and Violet to break up and then get back together we’ve meandered so far from the main story you may wonder if they’ve simply filmed the first draft of the script. After Violet and her supervising professor (Rhys Ifans) exchange a drunken kiss, we have an extended chase scene of Tom chasing the professor, leading to the professor defending himself with martial arts, something neither foreshadowed nor ever referred to again. It’s an ability that seems to exist solely for one joke.
The final half hour or so dissipates much of the good will the film has built up. There are some genuine laughs here, but by the time we have to go into long narratives about Tom and Violet’s separate lives simply to reach the conclusion we knew was coming from the start, you may be focusing more on your watch than the screen. If only they had used the same shorthand that’s employed in relating the film’s truly nutty relationship – between Violet’s sister (Alison Brie) and Tom’s co-worker (Chris Pratt) – this would be a much stronger movie.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.