The Five-Year Engagement sees director Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segel teaming up for the second time after the excellent Forgetting Sarah Marshall. And subconsciously I found myself making comparisons all the way through. It’s almost impossible not to, as again Segel is in a similar doting romantic mode, with generous helpings of his naked ass thrown in too.
It has Sarah Marshall’s spirit, but this sophomore collaboration feels more grown-up. Where Sarah Marshall was about a relationship falling apart and moving on, Engagement looks at what it takes, the stupid things that are done, to keep two people together. After the movie starts with Tom proposing to Violet, played by Emily Blunt, we see him make a huge sacrifice by giving up his career as a chef and following Violet to the University of Michigan to let her go after her dreams. And you can just hear the patrons of the cinema talking among themselves… “she’s so selfish… i know!” But seriously, she’s pretty bitchy about the whole thing.
In Michigan there are no fancy restaurants and instead Tom loses his way professionally in a sandwich shop where he remains unchallenged and unfulfilled. Where Peter in Sarah Marshall was going nowhere, Segel revisits that man-child state that he’s so fascinated with, only this time Tom regresses due to being deeply unhappy. And oh does he waste away spectacularly. He eventually resigns himself completely to the Michigan country way of life to great comedic effect. This transformation into a bearded, large poncho-sweater wearing outdoorsman is probably the highlight of the film.
Segel’s once again surrounded himself with great comedy actors everywhere you look. Forming part of his Michigan tribe are Brian Posehn as Tarquin and the scene-stealing Chris Parnell as stay-at-home dad who knits, Bill. Emily Blunt meanwhile has Mindy Kalling, Kevin Hart and Randall Park as university colleagues. Rhys Ifans never dissapoints either.
Then there’s great support from Chris Pratt, who proves to be very funny as best friend Alex and, minus her questionable British accent, forms a great partnership with Alison Brie’s Suzie as the pair who effortlessly and unintentionally achieve what the lead characters are having such a hard time with.
As for the leads, Segel is great – dry and subtle, but also able to go large when he needs to – but I have a real problem with Emily Blunt. She’s fine, but I just can’t get over the fact that she has progressed so much higher than her station which really ought to be solid supporting roles like the one of Emily in The Devil Wears Prada which she’s famous for. I don’t always believe in the relationship, at least not when it’s going well, no matter how hard they try to convince you with their meet scene at a New Year’s party. Segel has joked in the past that he has tricked everyone by making them believe he has any talent, but I think it’s in fact Ms Blunt who has done exactly that.
But despite my personal issues with Emily Blunt, she didn’t ruin the picture. And her character is just idiotic enough to make my feelings toward her work out for the best. Pacing is another issue, as it does feel rather long and threatens to almost take the five years in the title literally. But there can be no rush to let the situation develop, that’s understandable, and along the way there’s some great humour, set-pieces and finely observed stuff in there. And many grandparents passing away, just to temper it all and position it toward the serious and real. The deaths also serve to create nice urgency and also allude to the decay and deterioration of their relationship.
It’s a nice script that does well on screen with several great elements just missing out on coming together seamlessly and forming a whole of true quality like Forgetting Sarah Marshall. It’s every bit as enjoyable though with a pleasing, neat ending that’ll still have you believing in love, just love of a more rational hue.