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The Five-Year Engagement (***)

Jason Segel and Emily Blunt light up the screen…

If one didn’t know this already, Judd Apatow likes his films to be on the long side, both the ones he directs and the ones he produces. It’s hard to make a comedy sustain its energy when you’re approaching 2 hours, but Apatow has had good luck in that regard. ‘The Five-Year Engagement’ is further proof of this, but it’s also the first instance where I think a bit of editing would have made for a better movie overall. That being said, this is still a very good flick, one that’s funny and surprisingly honest about relationships. Co-writer and star Jason Segel continues to grow in both regards, Emily Blunt gives a terrifically charming performance, while the supporting cast is as funny as ever. This is right up there with the other top notch Apatow joints, even if it’s a little more flawed than usual…it makes up for that with heart and an evolving maturity that I very much appreciate. Segel and director/co-writer Nicholas Stoller aren’t going nearly as out there as they did on ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ (which Segel wrote), but they’re aiming for something different here. They’re more interested in telling the story that most romantic comedies don’t get to. Where the average rom-com stops at the engagement, this film is just beginning. I just wish it knew where to go from there, as it stumbles from time to time. It’s a real good comedy, but it could have been a great one.

When we first meet Tom (Segel) and Violet (Blunt), they’re about to celebrate New Year’s and also mark the fact that they first met one year ago that night in. Tom has further plans though…he pops the question to Violet, who says yes. Those around them are concerned that they’re moving too fast, including Tom’s immature best friend Alex (Chris Pratt), his parents (Mimi Kennedy and David Paymer), Violet’s high maintenance sister Suzie (Alison Brie), and her mother (Jacki Weaver), but they begin planning the wedding anyway. Those plans get put on hold when Violet gets a job offer at the University of Michigan. Tom is supportive and puts his career as a chef on hold for his woman, packing up and leaving San Francisco, but quickly finds out that life in Michigan isn’t quite the same as life in the Bay Area. He’s unable to get work at a restaurant and ends up at a sandwich shop. Violet meanwhile, is getting closer to her professor boss (Rhys Ifans), which strains the relationship as much as Tom’s de-evolution into a bit of a cave man. During this point, Alex impregnates and marries Suzie, and their successful wedding and marriage reminds Tom and Violet of where they aren’t yet at. When Violet gets her time in Michigan extended, they decide to plan the wedding again, but will they ever get to that point? The answer isn’t quite as obvious as you’d think, but those worried about a weak ending need not fret. The 2nd act is a bit hit and miss, but the end of the third act is a home run.

The chemistry between Jason Segel and Emily Blunt is a highlight of the film. Segel is playing a slightly more serious and restrained version of his usual character, but the quirk is certainly still there. He goes from a chef to a mountain man, and you believe the change. As for Blunt, she’s absolutely adorable and incredibly game for comedy here. She was a big surprise to me, as I know she’s great at drama, but this was perhaps the best comedic performance in an Apatow film since Leslie Mann in ‘Knocked Up’. They both bring out the best in each other and elevate the movie. Where most romantic comedies fail in terms of generating chemistry, this one succeeds in spades. As for the supporting characters, Chris Pratt is very amusing and Alison Brie is funny as well, with the likes of David Paymer and Jacki Weaver making the most of their limited screen time. Rhys Ifans is a bit on the smarmy side, but the role calls for that. The other supporting players include Kevin Hart, Mimi Kennedy, Mindy Kaling, Brian Posehn, Lauren Weedman, Dakota Johnson, Jim Piddock, Molly Shannon, and Chris Parnell. It’s the Segel and Blunt show though, and they put on quite a good show at that.

The direction by Nicholas Stoller is very good in a visual sense, showing some excellent growth behind the camera, but his pacing and editing are off here. Too many of the scenes feel like extras from the no doubt upcoming extended version on the DVD, instead of organic to the story. The film runs over 2 hours, and it feels it. Much of the second act consists of scenes that could have been trimmed or in many cases outright cut (it’s funny to see Segel grow a hobo beard and start fermenting his own meade, but it gets to be too much when you want the plot to progress). It’s a shame too, because the first act is very warm and funny, while the third act has some real emotional weight. If Stoller and Segel had planned out more what to cut from the script when filming began, this could have been something special. The screenplay is very funny and avoids many of the rom-com cliches while retaining all of the heart, but there’s just too much of it. You feel like you’ve been in the relationship for 5 years as well, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

With better editing, ‘The Five-Year Engagement’ would have been the second best film of the year to me. Instead, it’s just one of top 10 so far, but with an air of having could have been so much better. I liked much of what goes on, but there comes a certain point where the good scenes start to be weighed down by the ones that you could have done without. The ending makes up for things somewhat, but I’ll admit to being a little disappointed that the middle of the movie is so unwieldy. Overall, it’s not that big a complaint and I liked the flick a lot, so don’t mistake my review as a negative one. I can enthusiastically recommend the film, but just be aware that it might resemble the extended editions of Apatow’s films more than the theatrical ones.

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72 points
Film Lover

Written by Joey Magidson

When he’s not obsessing over new Oscar predictions on a weekly basis, Joey is seeing between 300 and 350 movies a year. He views the best in order to properly analyze the awards race/season each year, but he also watches the worst for reasons he mostly sums up as "so you all don't have to". In his spare time, you can usually find him complaining about the Jets or the Mets. Still, he lives and dies by film. Joey's a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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