– Summary –
Director : Nicholas Stoller
Year Of Release : 2012
Principal Cast : Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Rhys Ifans, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, Jim Piddock, Jackie Weaver, Kevin Hart, Mindy Kaling, Randall Park, David Paymer, Mimi Kennedy.
Approx Running Time : 127 Minutes
What we think : Sporadically funny, often plodding comedy sees Jason Segel and Emily Blunt trying to get married, and failing, all the while trying to overcome various life obstacles the screenplay can send their way. A funny first half hour makes way for a plodding, sometimes-funny, often silly middle 90 minutes, rounded off by a frenetic final 20 minutes – Engagement could have been cut completely in half time-wise and it still would have seemed a bit too long, while the script lacks enough laughs to even really designate this a “comedy”. The whole thing feels forced to the point of pain, and quite simply, I didn’t really find it that great.
If romantic comedies have taught us anything, it’s that lying or dishonesty always – always – causes more problems than it’s worth. Characters who fail to disclose information to their potential romantic interests inevitably rue that decision, although also inevitably, the problems caused are resolved by the closing credits. Hollywood’s long fascination with more and more bizarre speed-humps on the journey to True Love has resulted in some truly awesome – and equally awful – romantic comedies over the years, and while I’d love to say that The Five-Year Engagement belongs in the former category, I’d be hard pressed to really recommend it as anything else. Romantic comedies need two essential ingredients to work well: they need to be funny and somewhat romantic, usually in equal doses but not always…. they just need to have that special spark to grab and audiences attention and really become a classic. While Engagement has plenty working for it, it’s what’s working against it that undoes all the good stuff and makes this less than hilarious, less than romantic, film fall flat with me.
Tom (Jason Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt) meet on New Year’s Eve, fall in love, and a year later, become engaged. And that’s just the first ten minutes. Tom is a successful sous chef in a restaurant in San Fransisco, while Violet is a psychology graduate with aspirations to build her career. So when Violet gets an offer to move to Michigan to further her career, Tom puts his on hold in order to do so – it’s only a couple of years, she tells him blithely – and in doing so, sets off a chain of events that conspires to prevent the pair from getting hitched for five long years.Tom comes to resent having to give up his career as a chef to work in a two-bit sandwich store, while Violet finds more camaraderie with her team of research buddies and her wise, fatherly professor (Rhys Ifans), which whom she falls for when her relationship with Tom starts to sputter out.
The first thing to note about The Five-Year Engagement is is length. The film clocks in at a little past two hours, which is crucially overlong for a comedy built on a single joke – the fact that two people can’t get married for 5 years – and instead of being sharp, short and to the point, bumbles along with sidebars and useless ancillary characters bulking up an already anemic screenplay into some kind of comedy “epic”, which it simply isn’t. Engagement has a dearth of laughs mixed with excessive length, although I think had the film run some 90 minutes (or less), it might have been a better film. The script, written by star Segel and director Nicholas Stoller, loses focus once it sets about trying to find continuing reasons for Tom and Violet not to get married, typically desperate story points to overcome as the closing credits inevitably (but not quickly) get closer to rolling. The story opens well enough, and sets up the main characters easily, allowing the viewer to really get to know and love them (in a way), before trying to wring every ounce of angst and frustration out of them and us by creating what I can only describe as “fake” contrivances to keep them apart. Violet’s dalliance with Rhys Ifans’s character, her boss, is the second strength of the film, although it seems tacked on about 90 minutes into the film to keep things brewing before the big finale. Tom isn’t an idiot, although the film often portrays him as such even at the expense of the story’s credibility (at one point, he even grows a massive beard through sheer laziness, and the script still has Violet wanting to stay with him even after he’s turned into some kind of Homer Simpson character) and it’s dreary as hell to sit through. Violet, as essayed by the always efficient Emily Blunt, is perhaps the most fully realized of all the characters in the film, and Blunt herself manages to bring some dignity to what becomes a dignity-less character midway through the film, allowing viewers at least a modicum of respite from Segel’s manipulative self-deprecation comedy, which runs through a lot of this movie.
The ancillary characters, of which this film has an over-abundance all vying for screen time and laughs, most of which don’t happen, never quite jibe with the point of the film. In fact, the focus of the film tends towards comedic hijinks whenever Tom and Violet are with any of their friends, and serious character drama when they aren’t, leaving Engagement floundering as a hard-to-fathom mixture of both, and it fails. Rhys Ifans, as Violet’s boss Winton, oozes charm and is – aside from Segel and Blunt – the the third best part of this entire movie, although there’s a point where Ifans has to lower himself to silly, childish comedy at the expense of his own personal dignity (again, dignity-less) and it undermines his character significantly. Dakota Johnson plays some kind of twenty-something floozy for Tom to seek solace in when he and Violet go on a script-mandated “break”, and she obliterates her career with a thoroughly wooden, screeching portrayal of a vacuous bimbo, thanks to the misogynistic screenplay by Segel/Stoller. Less obnoxious, and more aggravating is Chris Pratt as Tom’s best mate Alex, who tries for Stifler but just comes over as lame – a little “try hard”, if you will.
I think what happened with this film is that Stoller was allowed to release the unedited rough cut of his film instead of a well-edited, pared-back variation like the films most directors would create. You get the sense that this version of the film contains all the “deleted scenes” as if the “deleted scenes” were never quite deleted. There’s chaff to spare in this film, plentiful no-go scenes which add little to the story other than to reiterate how much these guys should actually get married, or perhaps how dysfunctional their marriage-less situation might be. With too many lulls in story, too many gaps between genuine laughs, the film flounders towards its conclusion, by which time I’d lost interest, even if that conclusion involved a fairly frenetic, near-farcical, finale to get our lovebirds hitched. Perhaps had Stoller stitched the first 30 minutes and the last 20 together, coupled with a selected three scenes from the middle section, this film might have been crisper, sharper and more on-point. As it stands, The Five-Year Engagement seems to last just as long as the premise of the story itself. There’s a good film in here somewhere, although for the life of me I couldn’t find it most of the time. God forbid Segel and Stoller try and give us The Five-Year Honeymoon.