Friday, April 27, 2012

The Five Year Engagement Review

 Nicholas Stoller’s “The Five Year Engagement” is a relationship comedy about a couple’s long and turbulent journey, from engagement to marriage, that spans a period of five years. That’s a long time frame for a romantic comedy. A long time of numerous stops and starts. A long time of having to make sacrifices for one another. The couple is Tom Solomon (Jason Segel, the tall oaf with a big heart) and Violet Barnes (the sweet, charming Emily Blunt) and quite frankly they don’t know what they want in their relationship.

They both want to be successful; Violet wants to go work at the University of Michigan and become a professor of psychology, while Tom would like to run his own restaurant someday, but that doesn’t make for a healthy relationship. They want to get married but they also want to be selfish (particularly Violet) and as anyone would know, marriage is about compromise.

Their engagement gets off to a rocky start when Violet spoils Tom’s special proposal plan that involves him pretending to forget some receipts and having to go back to the restaurant they were at. Wherein he has a table set up on the roof looking at the glamorously lit up Golden Gate Bridge. It’s still successful; she says yes and is delighted by Tom’s effort any way.

 We move on to the engagement party where we get to meet a slew of standard romantic comedy characters, most notably Tom and Violet’s goofy parents and assorted relatives. Then those relatives give semi-embarrassing and silly speeches, or in the case of Tom’s immature friend Alex (Chris Pratt), a slide show featuring all of Tom’s ex-lovers. But the two are still happy, and still on track, planning their wedding.

Shortly after however, Violet gets the news that she’s been accepted to the University of Michigan where she can work on a variety of psychology projects. This means that they have to move there, which means they have to put the wedding on hold. But oh! Violet has been working so hard to get this opportunity.  So Tom, being generous, decides to be supportive and so they pack up and move.

Michigan is like a completely different world (not as glamorous as San Francisco, but in terms of a typical romantic comedy setting, it’s still pretty magical looking), a place where the only movie people seem to talk about is “Ratatouille” and wear ugly, yarn knitted sweaters. Violet adjusts just fine, getting to conduct social experiments involving donuts and “The Notebook,” while Tom is miserable, reduced to working at a crummy sandwich shop and scraping ice off the windshield of his car.

Two years go by and Violet is given an offer to stay at the university longer, and the wedding gets put off again. Emily continues fulfilling her dreams, while Tom (living in this strange place for so long) becomes a bit of a freak. Sporting a handle bar mustache, wearing those ugly yarn sweaters, and becoming a hunting nut. There’s an amusing dinner scene where we see cups that have been lined with dear skin, and plates and bowls made out of deer bones. When will this wedding ever happen?

As I said before, it’s a long journey, but leave it to Judd Apatow (he wrote and directed “Knocked Up” and “Funny People,” and produced Stoller’s last two directorial outings “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Get Him to the Greek”) to produce a mature and immensely satisfying romantic comedy of sorts. We know that the ending is inevitable but it feels earned. Stoller directs the movie (for the most part) with great ease; the middle section involving the Michigan humor is particularity entertaining and swift.

The script by Stoller and Segel is intelligent, funny and heartfelt. This being an Apatow production, most of its humor is raunchy (with some peculiar curveball moments thrown in, like when Violet and her sister Suzie talk in the voices of Elmo and Cookie Monster) but at the same time the picture makes time for serious and intimate scenes involving Tom and Violet. They’re still partly funny but endearingly so.

And then there’s Blunt and Segel. As with all romantic comedies most of the strength is in the two leads, and both of them play wonderfully off one another. Of recent Segel has proven that he can be funny but also authentic. You believe in him and his struggles. And Blunt has proven that she can pretty much have bubbly chemistry with any male lead.

The movie does run a little long, a problem with all Apatow movies. They have large, character driven stories to tell and they want to be told thoroughly.  You definitely feel that length in “Five Year,” especially towards the end

 Nevertheless the movie still works overall. At its core (and as in all of the best romantic comedies) it wants to be funny but also serious and sincere, and it accomplishes that big time.


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