So many romantic comedies fail to be engaging, entertaining films all the way up to their final act, when they finally have to acknowledge the romantic portion of their premise. Nicholas Stoller’s debut film, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” mostly avoided that trap, layering in a funny story and characters with a sweet, unexpected romance. Stoller’s next film, “The Five-Year Engagement,” is a worthy follow-up, but there’s a striking difference between its romantic and comedic moments, something that ultimately hurts the film.
“Forgetting Sarah Marshall” star Jason Segel reteams with Stoller to play Tom, a neurotic type who, in the film’s opening moments, gets engaged to Violet (Emily Blunt). The two have a very healthy, honest relationship that sees its first road bump when Violet gets a job offer in Michigan. Tom reluctantly uproots himself to move with her, and as time starts to go by, the pair predictably find their new surroundings pushing them apart.
The trailers for “The Five-Year Engagement” make it seem like a relatively light-hearted romp, but while the film has plenty of laughs to spare, it blends its comedy with more hefty dramatic moments in a manner reminiscent of 2006’s Vince Vaughn vehicle “The Break-Up,” which was never afraid to let its stars tear into each in a wholly unfunny manner. Fortunately, things never get quite as ugly between Tom and Violet, but “The Five-Year Engagement” still takes its characters and their problems seriously and doesn’t shy away from the conflict that its central couple inevitably stumbles into.
It’s common knowledge that Segel is a funny guy, and he doesn’t disappoint here, showing equal aplomb with physical and verbal comedy. He’s perfectly matched with Blunt, easily the film’s strongest dramatic player. Blunt handles her character’s flaws with grace and charm, even scoring a few killer laughs along the way. Segel and Blunt are backed by a spectacular supporting cast including Mindy Kaling, Kevin Hart, Jacki Weave and Chris Parnell, but NBC comedy mainstays Alison Brie of “Community” and Chris Pratt of “Parks and Recreation” are the MVPs, sometimes stealing entire scenes without saying a single word.
“The Five-Year Engagement’s” weakest element is its bloated run time. The film’s title makes it clear that we’ve got a lot of ground to cover, and Stoller makes some interesting insights about the way people can change over time, but there’s no excuse for a romantic comedy to break the two hour mark. As soon as Tom and Violet end up in Michigan, it’s clear where the film is headed, and the amount of time it takes to get to the same third act of every romantic comedy ever made is unforgivable. Even so, the film’s final moments are a disarmingly sweet twist on how romantic comedies usually end, and it’s here that Stoller finds the right balance between laughs and pathos for the first time.
Even though its wildly veering tone could use some work, “The Five-Year Engagement” remains watchable and entertaining throughout. Its characters are compelling, flawed and honestly written, and while its comedy and drama don’t mix as well as they could, the film never lets one overwhelm the other. It’s not as warm or rewatchable as Stoller’s previous works, but “The Five-Year Engagement” is a relatively painless, often funny romantic comedy well worth the considerable time commitment.
Printed on Friday, April 27, 2012 as: '5 Year Engagement' follows up director's rom-com filmography