Segel, Blunt Make ‘The Five-Year Engagement’ Relationship Feel Real
By STEWART SMITH
Last week, I complained at length at how false and airless the romance felt in "The Lucky One." In some ways, "The Five-Year Engagement" feels like a pretty great antidote.
More often than not, most romantic movies (be they comedies or dramas or horror) rush things. Our leads are thrust into the romantic proceedings and suddenly find true love over the course of weeks, months sometimes, if we're lucky. If nothing else, "The Five-Year Engagement," simply by extension of its concept gives us plenty of time to let this relationship air out and feel lived-in. It feels real, and that is something exceptionally rare these days.
Jason Segel plays Tom, a talented chef who seems on the fast track to running a popular San Francisco restaurant, an enviable position for anyone in the industry, to be sure. The movie opens as he botches his planned proposal to Violet (Emily Blunt). She finds it all endearing, especially as he's proposing on the one year anniversary of their first meeting, and says "yes." (Well, of course she does, otherwise there'd be no movie, but I digress.)
Wedding planning is in full gear when, unexpectedly, Violet gets accepted into the University of Michigan's post-doctorate psychology program. Eager to accommodate his bride-to-be's academia aspirations (not to mention assuming they'll be back in San Francisco a mere two years later), Tom agrees to delay the wedding. What's two years in the scheme of being able to spend the rest of their lives together, right?
Violet's life in Michigan goes swimmingly. Her idea for a long-term psychological research experiment is immediately picked up and she quickly earns the friendship and respect of her professor and peers. Tom, meanwhile, is mostly miserable. Unable to find a job at a decent restaurant, he's stuck fancying up Reuben sandwiches at a small deli and going on hunting trips with the husband of one of Violet's peers.
Two years pass and Violet's time with the university is extended. This more or less pushes Tom into a major bout of (hilarious) apathy and depression, as he takes up hobbies of crossbow hunting, beekeeping and maintaining some grotesquely hilarious facial hair. Their relationship seems to be at the breaking point, and they even go so far as to throw planning out the window and take whatever cake, outfits, venue and marriage officiator they can find. But not even that can seem to get Tom and Violet married. Nothing seems to work anymore.
Their frustrations about not getting married are compounded by the deaths of grandparents, but also the slowly expanding family of Tom's brother, Alex (Chris Pratt) and Violet's sister, Suzie (Alison Brie). The two were quickly married once Suzie got pregnant following a drunken hook up with Alex after Tom and Violet's engagement party. They're hardly an ideal couple, but they seem happy and are making genuine progress in their lives as adults. It provides a perfect mirror to Tom and Violet's life and really hammers home the central message of the movie: Nothing will ever be perfect, that's why you roll with what you've been given and make the best of it.
What makes this movie work is how real Violet and Tom's relationship comes across. Far too often in romantic movies, be the comedies or dramas, we typically only see the happy parts, followed by a few shaking moments of drama before everything is happily wrapped up. But here, while there are definitely moments of bliss for them, their relationship never feels manufactured or scripted, even when Tom sort of goes off the rails and becomes a backwoods hunter/beekeeper. This feels like a relationship that anyone I know could have endured.
This is due not only to the strength of the script by Segel and director Nicolas Stoller, but to the chemistry between Blunt and Segel. They play off of each other in a remarkably natural fashion. They have definite chemistry, but not in a "they riff off of each other with snappy dialogue" or "they smolder with passion" way, but more in a "they feel like an actual couple"way.
If there is a problem to be had with the film, it is one intrinsic to the story itself, I'm sure somebody has already made a "lol it happens in real time, right?" joke, so I'll refrain, but "The Five-Year Engagement" is too long. I understand why it sort of has to be. In order to properly communicate the troubles these two endure and to make it retain any sort of dramatic weight, things had to be drawn out as long as they are. And in that respect, Stoller succeeds. It doesn't change the fact that by the last 15 or 20 minutes, the whole thing just sort of drags due to a loss of momentum. I'm not really sure what could have been done to keep things moving and still retain the integrity of the concept, but the fact remains that the movie definitely loses some of its zing toward the end.
That said, such a problem shouldn't keep you from giving this a shot. There are some genuinely solid laughs to be had and it's always nice to see Hollywood give us a realistic relationship for once.
Stewart Smith is the Entertainment Editor for the
Tyler Morning Telegraph
. Contact him at 903-596-6301 or by e-mail at ssmith@tylerpa per.com.