Romantic comedies have a bad reputation for a good reason — they tend to rely too heavily on stale stereotypes and other fluff. Many current movies try to be like romantic Hallmark movies, which were good in the ’50s, but romantic standards are no longer as cliché. It was a relief to watch The Five-Year Engagement, a rom-com where I don’t want to constantly strangle the main characters.
Violet (Emily Blunt) and Tom (Jason Segel) get engaged exactly one year after they first met. They start planning for their wedding, but they start to postpone the ceremony — first because of a relative’s quick shotgun wedding outshining what they had planned, and later because they move from San Fransisco to Michigan for Violet’s graduate studies. From there, they begin to drift apart as life changes put stress after stress on their relationship.
On the surface, a lot of the plot points in this movie are similar to those in Wanderlust, one of my more recent reviews for CliqueClack. Both movies show a committed couple who love each other. Both introduce a female character who initially is frustrated because she didn’t get a job position she applied for. Both couples move to a new place where the woman flourishes while the man feels stunted and lost. Both women find themselves in a close friendship with their mentor that threatens their relationships. The thing is, in The Five-Year Engagement, the jokes are funnier, the dialogue is far less forced, and the chemistry between the two characters is effortless. I felt like I was watching a movie that had real care put into it from a writing and acting perspective, which I appreciate.
We’ve seen Blunt play plenty of cold, snobby characters in the past, but here she’s charming, warm, and very funny — she actually has some of the funniest moments of the movie. As a non-married woman who has been in a relationship with the same person for close to 7 years, I really appreciate that they didn’t make Blunt a raging harpy who’s main motivation is to be married in the most extravagant princessy way possible. In fact, while the marketing for the movie has focused on the couple in bridal wear and looking miserable, the movie is much more about how life gets in the way of their relationship than it is about life getting in the way of their wedding. The majority of their frustrated journey as a couple has that ring of authenticity to it — a perfect example is a fight they have in the middle of the movie that effortlessly goes from sad to exaggerated sarcasm borderlining on ridiculous to sad again.
I’m already a fan of Alison Brie thanks to Community and Mad Men, and she was essentially the first reason I wanted to see this movie when I heard about it a year ago. Her introduction in the film might be a little too hammy even for her silly sensibilities, but her character (Emily Blunt’s very British sister) gets better as the movie progresses, and shares one of the funniest scenes in the movie with Blunt that happens to involve a very serious conversation spoken in Sesame Street voices. Chris Pratt gets borderline annoying at times as Segel’s best friend, but both he and Brie are just sprinkled throughout the story because they don’t live near the couple for the majority of the film. The other minor characters are numerous and varied in their effectiveness. Some (like Chris Parnell’s quirky househusband friend of Segel’s) grow on you while others (Lauren Weedman‘s anxiety-filled lesbian chef) were just plain obnoxious. Those are two that jump out at me, but the supporting cast was huge, including Mindy Kaling, David Paymer, Rhys Ifans, Kevin Hart, Brian Posehn, and Molly Shannon in a thankfully short cameo.
But then there’s the biggest conundrum of this movie — the length. It’s around 2 hours long, which is a stretch for romantic comedies. On one hand, I appreciate that this felt like it took 5 years and I mean that in a good way. By the time the rather whimsical ending comes, you feel like you’ve been on this long and winding road with the characters and that they’ve earned their ending. On the other hand, even as I was watching the movie, I noticed where the fat needed to be trimmed. There were a couple scenes that could have been completely taken out because they did nothing to advance the plot or add to the characters, but there were too many other scenes that just went on a half a minute too long and that adds up! This writing team (Segal and Nicholas Stoller) also wrote The Muppets, which suffered from it’s own unnecessary scene that dragged the movie down slightly. I’m noticing that patten between the two … even if they thought these moments were hilarious, they really needed to cut some of this out for the sake of the story and save it for the DVD deleted scenes. Another small gripe is how prejudiced the movie is against Michigan and the middle of the country in general — a potential employer actually spends a montage laughing at Segel’s character because he decided to move from San Fransisco to Michigan. Later, they take shots at North Dakota university for no reason. Again, it’s a small gripe but something I noticed.
In short, The Five-Year Engagement is a thoughtful look at a fairly realistic modern relationship. The movie has its issues, most of which stem from extended improvised jokes that weigh the story down and just take up time. The movie also depends on some standard rom-com tropes that lean dangerously towards the cliche at times, but it’s still smarter and funnier than most romantic comedies in recent years. I had a great time and give it a hearty endorsement.