The Five-Year Engagement
by George Sax
Intermittently through its first third or so, Nicholas Stoller’s The Five-Year Engagement threatens to become a guilty pleasure. Another offshoot of the Judd Apatow industrial comedy mill, it now and then achieves a kind of crudely—and I do mean crudely—funny and goofy wit. Indeed, here and there it seems to humorously radiate an evocation of Mike Nichol’s 1960s comic-sketch partner Elaine May, in her later screenwriter incarnation. It may sometimes remind some of her goofy, weirdly, embarrassingly funny and very inconsistent writing. But it doesn’t sustain this hopeful impression. It falls back on its own limited and vulgar devices.
Tom Solomon (Jason Segel) is a San Francisco chef who proposes to English expat psychologist Violet (Emily Blunt). They begin planning for a glorious nuptial ceremony, which can’t be held because of the movie’s proposed complication. New grad Violet is offered no other employment opportunity than a post-doc fellowship in Ann Arbor (depicted as a dreary, rustically eccentric, culturally limited outpost). Good egg Tom agrees to tag along, and their wedding postponement stretches into years, as his life becomes subsidiary to hers and is virtually ruined. If this doesn’t sound particularly funny, that may be because it’s a story that reflects real dynamics in American life, difficult ones for many people.
Stoller and company (he and Segal wrote the script) bring next to nothing to this situation, either in terms of insight or diversion. They rely on a thin plot line that keeps stopping for comic set pieces that rely a great deal on bodily functions, sexual congress and violence. (There are two instances of severed appendages and one puncture wound from a crossbow.) The movie’s comic inspiration is predominantly juvenile crudity.
And yet, they occasionally inject some woozy invention that suggests a better sensibility and skill set. One late scene in which Tom is cheerfully admonished by his parents with a litany of their ailments and reminders of human frailty is a little reminiscent of Nichols and May dialogue. Engagement wants to hitch its rougher-hewn comic business to a romantic comedy’s trajectory. This never flies.
Watch the trailer for The Five-Year Engagement
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