By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)
In a nod to the protagonist chef (Jason Segel’s Tom), let’s just say that The Five-Year Engagement engages in the pasta theory of filmmaking: Throw enough starch against the wall, and something’s bound to stick.
But after awhile, that surfeit of starch is not only going to stick, but congeal. And not even the talented Chef Tom can turn it into something appetizing. Somewhere buried under all the sight gags, stale doughnut theories, dying grandparents, flashbacks to the initial meet-cute, painful pre-wedding toasts and shots of snow, there’s a delightful comedy. We often cry at weddings; in this case, we want to cry at the surplus that is The Five-Year Engagement.
It’s the classic rom-com formula updated for our time: boy-meets-girl, boy-beds-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl. Here, budding social psychologist Violet (Emily Blunt) meets Segel’s sous chef Tom at a New Year’s Eve costume party. She’s dressed as Princess Diana; he’s outfitted in a pink bunny suit. A year later, he pops the question and she says “Yes.” But when conflicting career issues arise, the couple decide to stay together while postponing the wedding. (Um, why? Since they don’t seem to have any doubt about the longevity of their relationship, other than answering to a belabored plot, why don’t they simply tie the knot?) We will then spend five years – and yes, it literally feels like five years – while others wed and procreate, and Tom deals with sub-standard restaurant jobs as Violet becomes a rising star in her post-doctoral program at the University of Michigan. As their circle of oddball friends grows wider, the story grows more tedious.
Frankly, at this time in their respective careers, filmmakers Segel (co-writer) and Nicholas Stoller (co-writer and director) should know better. With this movie marking their fourth collaboration (having previously co-written and/or directed 2011’s The Muppets, 2010’s Get Him to the Greek and 2008’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall), the days of feeling their way around a film set are far behind them. Like overindulgent parents shooting every second of their child’s Christmas pageant (consequently casting their producer Judd Apatow in the role of the overindulgent grandpa), Segel and Stoller they can’t seem to let any precious bit hit the editing room floor. Which, in turn, forces us to sit through numerous scenes of flaccid storytelling, just so we can appreciate this particular joke, or that particular schtick. After awhile, even if the bit is indeed funny, we’re no longer amused.
Amid the bloat, however, many talented actors shine through. Alison Brie (most recognizable for her role as Trudy, the social-climbing wife on AMC’s Mad Men) plays Violet’s younger sister Suzie. In a first act scene in which Suzie, overcome and drunk, is unable to deliver the engagement toast, Brie is a comedic marvel. Later, the two sisters imitate the voices of Elmo and Cookie Monster, concurrently entertaining Suzie’s children while engaging in a heated argument. Brilliant. More of this kind of unique humor, and less flashes of Segel’s buttocks (one is funny, three is a glute glut) is desperately needed.
Nods to Chris Pratt as Tom’s outrageously rude best friend, Rhys Ifans as Violet’s smooth, sardonic overseeing head of department, Kevin Hart as a competing grad student, Chris Parnell as the sweater-knitting guy (again, overdone), and Lauren Weedman as the not-so-closeted lesbian chef.
As for the leads, while their genuine likeability shines through, they’re buried under trivia. Blunt frequently smiles and laughs which is OK, but the actress is capable of giving us so much more. Segel portrays yet another nice guy but, considering all the busyness up on screen, he doesn’t have that much of a chance to explore any depth. The couple constantly kiss and coo, claiming their love for each other. Over and over and over again. To mangle a phrase: Nothing exceeds like excess.
Rating on a scale of 5 years too many: 2.5
Release date: April 27, 2012
Directed by: Nicholas Stoller
Written by: Jason Segel & Nicholas Stoller
Cast: Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Rhys Ifans, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie
Running Time: 124 minutes