The Five-Year Engagement is cut from the same cloth as 2008’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall and shares many of the elements that made that film successful. It was co-written by Sarah Marshall writer/star Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller (who directed both FSM and this movie), and has a cast that effortlessly embodies the movie’s characters. Along with a certain sweetness that permeates both films, there’s also something here that most romantic comedies are sorely lacking these days: characters that actually feel like real people. Thanks to Segel and Stoller’s writing and the easygoing and likeable cast, I can easily imagine life for these characters both before the film starts and long after it ends, a feat to which I’m not sure any movie in the “Katherine Heigl” subgenre of rom-coms could lay claim.
Emily Blunt and Jason Segel star as Violet and Tom, a couple one character later describes as being “almost perfect for each other.” Tom is a chef at a sleek San Francisco restaurant and works with Alex (Chris Pratt), who I swore was his character’s brother, but realized upon looking it up he’s just his best friend. Violet is applying to grad schools to become a psychologist, and in the opening scene, the two get engaged and take the audience through a flashback of the night they met. Violet quickly gets accepted to a graduate program, but much to the dismay of her sister (Alison Brie) and mother (Jacki Weaver), the new program is all the way in Michigan, so the wedding is delayed. Tom gives up a head chef position and ends up working at a local college sandwich shop while Violet studies with her new professor, an arrogant ladies’ man named Winton (Rhys Ifans), and with wedding plans perpetually pushed back, you can see where the conflicts would arise.
I don’t want to make this film out to sound groundbreaking or anything, because it definitely follows a standard formula for these kinds of movies. If you’ve seen four or five romantic comedies in your life, chances are pretty good you’ll be able to chart out every major plot point in this film before you see it. But the same thing could be said about a lot of action movies after watching their trailers, and ultimately, enjoyment comes down to the execution. Segel and Blunt are wonderful to watch (and, I suspect, inherently likeable in almost any role because of their infectious personalities). The supporting cast is made up of a ton of funny people, including Brian Posehn and Chris Parnell as Tom’s creepy and sometimes-inappropriate friends and Kevin Hart and Mindy Kaling as Violet’s co-workers who are obsessed with masturbation and gossip, respectively.
Pratt and Brie are especially hilarious, but I’ll admit that my fondness for them stems heavily from being an avid fan of their NBC shows “Parks and Recreation” and “Community.” (Despite the fact that I may be blinded by bias, Brie’s English accent is impressive and consistent throughout the movie, even during an adorable scene in which she and Blunt speak to each other in Sesame Street character voices because children are nearby.)
Stoller seems to have mastered the art of directing talented comedians, employing his typical reserved style and allowing the performances to outshine the flashiness of the direction. There’s always something authentic about his films that seems to justify their existence outside of a simple premise or one sentence synopsis, and if I were to pinpoint that specific element, I’d say it’s a sense of heart. We care about what these characters are doing because they’re so well-crafted and well-acted; as we watch them for two hours, their relationships matter. I’ve seen a few criticisms that point out this film’s thesis is basically “settling is good enough,” but I don’t actually think that’s what’s being said here at all. Yes, one of the characters might have said those words (or similar ones) in the movie, but if you look at the larger picture and see what these two mean to each other, I think a more positive message can be taken away from this experience.
The Five-Year Engagement deals with some complicated issues but never gets bogged down with them, always remembering that it’s a comedy first and foremost. A decent premise, honest characters, and a really funny script put this movie way above the average romantic comedy. Until next time…