The Five-Year Engagement

I think it’s practically impossible to dislike Jason Segel. He’s a predictable and reliable comedic presence in all the films he is in with an infectious enthusiasm and a schlubby exterior. While the projects he acts in may be mediocre or tired (I’m looking at you How I Met Your Mother) scenes with Segel never are. There’s just something so darn likeable about the guy that it’s easy to overlook the deficiencies of the cast or script. The Five-Year Engagement is no different; Segel’s great, but the rest of the film sure isn’t.

The opening scene of the film is awkward and forced and unfortunately, this is when Tom (Jason Segel) proposes to his long-time girlfriend Viola (Emily Blunt). Stumbling before the race has even started, the film has to play catch-up by showing that the happy couple really does have chemistry – through a single flashback and the dogged persistence of scenes that exist solely to inform the audience of how cute Tom and Viola are together. After that the film starts to become a bit more cohesive and the two leads seem more comfortable with one another. So Viola says “Yes” to Tom’s proposal and the two set out planning their dream San Fransisco wedding populated with classic archetypes as the zany best friend (Chris Pratt who does a great job filling this part), the bride’s sister (Alison Brie talking with a British accent that is a trifle distracting), and two sets of parents one of which (obviously) has a disdain for the sanctity of marriage after their own crumbled when a twenty something Asian woman entered the picture. It’s all par for the course, which is why the film feels more like a paint-by-numbers rather than well-tuned comedy.

Of course, conflict has to rear its ugly head and Viola is offered her dream job in Michigan, putting the kibosh on the wedding planning until the couple decides where they’re going to be. Tom does the noble thing and gives up his sous chef position at a fancy San Fran restaurant (“I can cook anywhere” he explains) and the two set off to their new snow-covered home. Long story short, Tom can’t find a suitable job in Michigan, ends up working at a sandwich shop with eclectic co-workers and becomes resentful of Viola for bringing him there. Ah, romantic bliss.

The Five-Year Engagement hits all the typical beats of the romantic comedy formula (boy love girl, boy loses girl, boy and girl get back together – this isn’t a spoiler, just a time-tested and true fact) but doesn’t succeed on making the journey between those milestones all that entertaining or funny. Perhaps the biggest problem with the film is that it spends an extended amount of time on jokes that aren’t all that funny or fell flat to begin with. Just off the top of my head there’s a scene of Alison Brie trying not to cry that seems to go on forever, a scene at a wedding where the groom serenades his new bride in song (in what feels like he literally sings the entire song), and a toast at a rehearsal dinner by an alcoholic friend of Segel’s who curses, drinks, and rambles his way through a semi-coherent speech that is neither funny nor endearing. The comedic timing is seriously askew.

The movie feels overly long and is surprisingly weak on the comedy side of things (although Segel does shine in a few choice moments). It has something interesting to say about the compromises people make in relationships but only touches on the subject shallowly to instead rely on the familiar tropes of the romantic comedy genre – unfortunately making the film mostly forgettable in the process.

Grade: C+

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