On the surface, Tom (Jason Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt) have it all together. She’s a psychology student waiting for a dream job at Berkeley, and he’s a rising-star sous chef angling for his own gig as a headlining cook at one of San Francisco’s swanky restaurants. They’re happily together and after Tom proposes, they’re engaged and thrilled about it.
Then, life gets in the way. First, the couple postpones their marriage so that Violet’s sister Suzie (Alison Brie) can get married to her dopey paramour Alex (Chris Pratt, playing a great variant on the character he plays in Parks & Recreation). Then, the dream job to Berkeley never comes, but what does come is a letter inviting Violet to go east to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and join the staff of Winton Childs (Rhys Ifans) while getting her doctorate. It’s a perfect opportunity for Violet, and Tom doesn’t want to see her skip that, so off into the wilds of Middle America they go.
For Violet, Ann Arbor is a great chance at her dream. For Tom, it’s a place where dreams go to die. As the couple bicker and drift apart, their two-year temporary delay in marriage becomes the titular five year engagement. If it seems like it takes forever, that’s because it does.
The cast of The Five Year Engagement is very appealing. Emily Blunt is adorable and Jason Segel is familiar and comfortable in his role as the shaggy dog fiance. The cast of actors around them, from Chris Pratt and Alison Brie to Brian Posehn, Mindy Kaling, and Rhys Ifans are really good, and they actually kind of take the focus off our main couple. They’re much more lively than either Blunt or Segel, who we can’t really empathize with because a) we know they’ll probably end up together in the end due to the law of romantic comedy and b) they are just kind of bland and a bit whiny.
Part of the problem of Five Year is that it’s at least 30 minutes too long. A two hour five minute dramedy is interminable, and so many of the middle segments could have been better served with a serious trimming as it goes from laughter to maudlin in the process. I get that we’re supposed to feel for these people, but there is about 45 minutes in the middle of the film when it just becomes an exercise in watching Jason Segel disintegrate (despite having some very good friends who would be a pretty good support group, if a strange one). It’s not exactly compelling, just depressing. It’s tough to root for a couple who really look like they shouldn’t stay together.
I’d imagine it’s tough to cut from your own script, and this is definitely one of the passion projects of Segel and director Nick Stoller. The movie has its moments, and they manage to capture the nature of real fights very well at a few points (especially between Blunt and Brie in front of Brie’s character’s daughter), but aside from those moments, there was a lot of padding. It’s as if they were pained by cutting things that were funny on set but didn’t work in the context of the movie or just plain went on too long. It’s uneven and a bit lumpy, in spite of the fact I want it to succeed based on its pedigree.
If ever a movie was in dire need of scissors, it’s this one. I like the principles, I like the concept, I like the creative team, but it never quite pulls together. Like most of the Apatow crew, Segel and Stoller take a meandering approach to film making, rather than running lean and tight. That robs the movie of some of its comedic punch, but it’s still too funny to work as a character drama. The Five Year Engagement has its charms, but not enough of them.