Review: "The Five-Year Engagement"

The world of comedic film changed in 2005 with the premier of Judd Apatow’s The 40 Year Old Virgin. Since that time, the R-rated comedy has become a mainstay of the industry and Apatow’s production company has become the premiere destination for filmmakers looking to work within that realm. Apatow has a distinct style, both as a director and a producer, that can be counted upon to a tee and for better or for worse, The Five-Year Engagement falls right in line with the Apatow Stable of Films.

Our journey begins when Tom Solomon (Jason Segel), an up-and-coming chef in the vaunted San Francisco food scene, proposes to Violet Barnes (Emily Blunt), a PhD student in psychology. What starts off as a beautiful love story takes a turn when Violet is offered and accepts a position at the University of Michigan which results in a difficult move for Tom. The two put their wedding on hold until Violet’s time in the program ends, an indefinite date they continue to push further and further away. As Violet becomes more and more successful, Tom sinks deeper into his funk, putting a strain on the couple’s already contentious relationship. As the years pass, Tom and Violet are forced to question whether or not they should be getting married and if they were ever compatible in the first place.

I know that summary makes Engagement sound decidedly dramatic but I promise, it really is a comedy. This is a far cry from Blue Valentine or even 500 Days of Summerwhich was much more serious (if lightheartedly serious) than Engagement ever sets out to be. But it wouldn’t be an Apatowian adventure without a hearty dose of reality mixed in with all the crude words and raunchy jokes and this film definitely fits the bill when it comes to fleshing out true emotion and real drama. Engagement actually hits the mark as well if not better than any of the films in this category, featuring an excellent balance between heart and jokes. Its weakness, though, is the same weakness that virtually every Apatow production before it has had: the runtime-to-content ratio. 124 minutes is a perfectly acceptable runtime for a romantic comedy IF it keeps up its own pace throughout the entire (or the majority of) the 124 minutes. But like its predecessors (see: Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, et al), Engagement stalls out in the second act, leading to a sense of drag through about 15 minutes that don’t quite fit with the mold designed for the rest of the film. In essence, if this film had received just a bit more editing, it probably winds up being a much more impressive entry into the genre.

Again, however, I could say that about almost every movie that has come through Apatow’s house since 2005. You can always find 10 or 15 minutes here or there that either doesn’t work, doesn’t fit, or doesn’t live up to the standard set throughout the rest of the film which should have been left on the cutting room floor. The flip side of this argument is that Apatow allows his filmmakers (in this case Nicholas Stoller, whose films I truly enjoy) to make the movie that they want to make. I greatly admire this quality in a producer but at the same time, I’d also like to be able to really go overboard in my praise of one of his films and the lack of editing usually prevents that.

That said the unbalanced runtime-to-content ratio within Engagement didn’t keep me from enjoying the ride (though it definitely hampered the overall experience). This movie is chock full of noteworthy acting performances, particularly that of Segel. Tom runs a gamut of emotions throughout the five years depicted and Segel handles each of them wonderfully. He is at times downright hilarious and at others a genuine sympathetic figure. Box office totals notwithstanding, Segel has transformed himself into a bankable star in the dramatic comedy field. His co-star Blunt has moments in which she seems a bit out of her element but overall, she is delightful and holds her own within a role that isn’t as easy as it might appear. In less capable hands, Violet could become an unlikeable shrew but Blunt (and, I assume, the creative team behind the movie) keeps the audience on board with her endless charm and by exhibiting a genuine internal conflict within her character. It should also be noted that while Segel and Blunt have some natural chemistry, there’s also a slight amount of strain between their characters which makes their relationship come off as all the more real. The surrounding cast, too, is outstanding and they routinely steal the show. Chris Pratt and Alison Brie grab the majority of the attention (these two are rapidly turning into stars) but Mindy Kaling, Brian Posehn, and Chris Parnell all have stellar moments. Even Kevin Hart comes across as funny here, a feat I had previously thought he was incapable of.

These performances come together in a well-written and appealing narrative (again, outside of the extra scenes which need to be cut) that dwells in a surprisingly realistic atmosphere. In fact, there is a distinct lack of gags within Engagement as compared to past Apatow endeavors and I for one feel that the film is better for that as it really gives the audience a chance to buy into Tom and Violet’s relationship. There’s nothing especially unique or special about Engagement but I still found it to be quality, enjoyable film.