The Five-Year Engagement (Universal Pictures, R)

5year sqBut where Forgetting Sarah Marshall was reliably funny and had surprisingly complex character motivations and development under its surface, The Five-Year Engagement feels both less likeable and less real.



The team of Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller are in most people’s books two for two at this point, what with 2008’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall (written by and starring Segel, directed by Stoller) and last year’s The Muppets (screenplay written by the team, starring Segel) being resounding successes in most people’s estimation. Sure, the one time Stoller directed a feature without Segel’s help, 2010’s Get Him to the Greek, he failed, and it seems like Segel is the brains of the bunch (I like Forgetting Sarah Marshall because of its script, but always thought it could have used a stronger director). All the same, it seems worth getting excited for their new collaboration, The Five-Year Engagement, which is starring Segel, directed by Stoller, and written by the team.

And while The Five-Year Engagement doesn’t disappoint, it doesn’t quite live up to its promise, either. On top of the Segel pedigree, it has one of the best casts of a Hollywood film this year: Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) is the female lead; Alison Brie (TV’s Community and Mad Men) is supporting; Brian Posehn (most known as a stand-up comedian) turns up in a small role; Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom’s scary mother) pops up, again as a scary mother, etc. Even Chris Pratt, whose character I have long argued should be lifted out of Parks & Recreation and lost forever, is turning into a likeable film actor, between his work in last year’s Moneyball and now this.

The premise is right there in the title: Tom (Segel) and Violet (Blunt) get engaged in the first scene, and then basically spend the remainder of the movie’s looooong over-two-hour running time having to push back their wedding for reasons somewhat out of their control. The main culprit is that Violet is offered a post-doc position in Michigan, so Tom quits his upwardly mobile chef job at a growing restaurant in San Francisco and the two of them move out there for what is supposed to be two years. Brie and Pratt play Violet and Tom’s respective siblings (Brie makes a surprisingly convincing British girl), Posehn is Tom’s co-worker at a shitty job he takes in Michigan, and Rhys Ifans plays Violet’s smooth, academic boss.

But where Forgetting Sarah Marshall was reliably funny and had surprisingly complex character motivations and development under its surface, The Five-Year Engagement feels both less likeable and less real. For example, I was willing to suspend my disbelief that in Sarah Marshall Segel’s schlubby character had a seemingly endless line of attractive young girls lining up to date and/or sleep with him. Here, though, it quickly stretches credibility that Violet would stay with schlubby Tom (and that a seemingly endless line of other girls seem to want to date and/or sleep with him). In fairness, Tom’s descent into the sedentary lifestyle is brought on almost solely by being trapped in a place he hates and where he is unable to get a job that suits his abilities, and perhaps Violet’s character would feel responsible for this and choose to stick with him. Still, there are some plot developments that I’d rather not give away here that make it seem all the less likely that she would stay with this non-catch through thick and thin. That said, Segel as a screenwriter has always been good at never leveling easy blame at any one character, and more realistically spreading it around; this trait of his is still nicely on display here.

What it comes down to is that The Five-Year Engagement is a likeable enough film that is brought down by high expectations and a too-long running time. If you go see it, I doubt you’ll regret it and will probably even enjoy yourself, but this isn’t one I’d see being in a big hurry to watch a second time anytime soon. I’d sooner just go watch Forgetting Sarah Marshall for the hundredth time. | Pete Timmermann

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