Jason Segel is blowing up right now, or maybe he’s already blown up and now he’s riding the apex of the explosion that catapulted him. Wherever he is in the arc of his career he’s one of Hollywood’s go-to guys for comedy. There’s good reason for it as he’s a funny guy. Also because he brought back The Muppets, and for that he deserves to do whatever the hell he wants.
I did not think that “whatever the hell he wants” would be a romantic comedy, but it was and now we have The Five-Year Engagement. In fairness I should say that you shouldn’t really associate this film with all the trappings the genre romantic comedy conjures up. It borders way more on actual relationships than most films in the genre and it makes the movie more intriguing. Then it decides that it is a rom-com after all and most of the intrigue flies out the window.
The Five-Year Engagement
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Release Date: April 27, 2012
The premise behind The Five-Year Engagement is that Tom (Jason Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt) just can’t seem to get married. It’s quickly established that the two of them are perfect for each and everything will just be perfect with everything they do. That is until Violet gets a teaching position at Michigan State University, which is far away from where the couple currently lives in San Francisco. Tom is ripped away from his successful career as a sous chef at a popular restaurant. The pair move to whatever small town MSU is in and Violet begins a happy career as Tom spirals deep into a mid-west depression after not being able to find work at a restaurant in town and having to settle for working at a deli.
The first thing one needs to do in order to enjoy this film is get over its absolutely impossible premise. Yes, Michigan State is in a small college town, but the idea that a successful chef from a famous restaurant in San Francisco couldn’t find work there is laughable at best and plot breaking at worst. Of course the entire story of Tom and Violet’s relationship revolves around his slow decline so putting this gripe aside is just a necessary step to actually enjoying the film.
The next obvious question is why Tom doesn’t just open his own restaurant in Michigan. Here’s where the movie’s story really fails. One of the great parts of the film is that you can sympathize with both characters. Violet’s worked hard for her career and wants to advance with Tom, while Tom is clearly trying to be supportive but is in a place he hates. For the most part this dichotomy works well, until the two actually confront each other about it. Suddenly Tom’s motivations are terribly unclear and the movie never really attempts to deal with his side of the story instead settling into romantic comedy tropes of fight, break-up and make-up. It’s disappointing because up until then it’s one of the better and funnier relationships in a rom-com in a while.
The film is definitely funny as well, especially thanks to the charm and whit of both the leading characters. Simply watching Emily Blunt on screen doing nothing is enjoyable, but she has fantastic timing. Paired with Segel’s already established quality humor the two can easily pull a laugh. Chris Pratt also pulls off a great performance as Tom’s idiot friend, but is underutilized as he doesn’t really come along for the ride when the couple moves to Michigan. Thankfully a stellar group of supporting actors keep most of the humor flowing and the jokes definitely hit more than they miss. It’s enough to make the movie enjoyable even if it misses out on what it really wants to be by crashing into cliches.
The movie just treads the line a bit too carefully for my taste. It could have been hilarious and truly emotional if it had gone a bit darker with Tom’s depression and tackled the issues it brings up with more depth than the film really allows. Yes, the entire film is supposed to have the Judd Apatow “real relationship” feeling, but it never actually grabs it. Instead The Five-Year Engagement is content with being funny, a little charming, and, in the end, shallow enough to be approachable.