Wednesday, September 5, 2012

DVD Review: The Five Year Engagement

The Five Year Engagement
Directed by: Nicholas Stoller.
Written by: Jason Segel & Nicholas Stoller.
Starring: Jason Segel (Tom Solomon), Emily Blunt (Violet Barnes), Chris Pratt (Alex Eilhauer), Alison Brie (Suzie Barnes-Eilhauer), Lauren Weedman (Chef Sally), Mimi Kennedy (Carol Solomon), David Paymer (Pete Solomon), Jacki Weaver (Sylvia Dickerson-Barnes), Jim Piddock (George Barnes), Dakota Johnson (Audrey), Rhys Ifans (Winton Childs), Mindy Kaling (Vaneetha), Randall Park (Ming), Kevin Hart (Doug), Brian Posehn (Tarquin).

I kind of feel bad that I didn’t really like The Five Year Engagement. After all, one of my most stated complaints about romantic comedies is that they always end just when things are starting to interesting – that is, when the couple who has been held apart the entire movie actually start a real relationship, which is way harder than the meet-cutes and misunderstanding that dogged them the entire movie. The Five Year Engagement on the other hand starts where most of these movies end – with the man proposing to his girlfriend. And rather than leave it at that, with a happily ever after that glosses over how difficult relationships can be, the movie really does show us how difficult they are. I just wish the film itself was better – because the idea behind the movie is quite good. But director/co-writer Nicholas Stoller and co-writer/star Jason Segel never find the right tone for the movie. It lurches between slapstick comedy, which isn’t very funny, to that new breed of awkward comedy, that in this case is much more awkward than funny, and seriousness that is trying too hard. There is probably a reason why more movies like this aren’t made – they’re too damn hard to get right.

The movie stars Segel as Tom, a chef working in San Francisco, who proposes to his girlfriend Violent (Emily Blunt) on New Year’s Eve. Things seem to be going perfectly when their life is turned upside down. Violent doesn’t getting the teaching position she wanted at Berkley – but does get into a program for Research Assistants at the University of Michigan. Tom agrees to go with her to Michigan – only for a couple of years before she can get another job out West – and in the process turns down a major promotion. Now, stuck in Michigan, Violent becomes successful and happy at work, and Tom is stuck working at a sandwich shop – a good one, but still it’s a sandwich shop. And their seemingly perfect relationship starts to go wrong.

In theory, I like the idea of this movie. Although it is produced by Judd Apatow, and is the same Stoller/Segel team that made Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Five Year Engagement is an attempt to be more mature than the previous films – to give a level of complexity to its female star the other films did not have, and not just make her the personification of female perfection who drags her overgrown man child boyfriend into adulthood behind her. Yet the movie can never really find the right notes to make all this work – Segel is still an overgrown man child, but this time he has a legitimate gripe with how everything has turned out, not that it excuses the creepy, bunny suit wearing, mustachioed loser he becomes. And while Blunt is given a role with more complexity to play here – she isn’t just rolling her eyes and throwing up her hands and saying “Boys will be boys” like so many other women in these movies, she is still much harder to get a read on than Tom. Does she, who is apparently in the psychology department, not see what is happening to Tom, or does she not want to see? Does she really think it’s fair that Tom has had to sacrifice everything so that she can get what she wants? We know from the beginning of their trip to Michigan that something will happen between her and her boss – Rhys Ifans – but did it all have to play out so predictably?

As it stands, The Five Year Engagement lurches from one scene to the next and never really finds itself. It tries to be too much – and as a result it ends up doing none of it very well. The idea is there for a great movie – but The Five Year Engagement comes nowhere close.

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