Producer Judd Apatow has had hit movies about weddings ( Bridesmaids) and delayed gratification ( The 40-Year-Old Virgin), which should make The Five-Year Engagement – which reunites the producer with Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s director Nicholas Stoller and writer-star Jason Segel – a consummation to be desired.
But though it’s occasionally funny and poignant, this latest shambling quasi-relationship comedy from the House of Apatow feels more like the raw feed than the final edit, and seems to run as long as the time span promised in the title.
Segel plays Tom, a sous chef at a San Francisco restaurant, with Emily Blunt as Violet, a psychology grad student looking for a doctoral program. We meet them on the anniversary of their first meeting at a costume party – he in a bunny costume, she as Princess Diana. On their way to a party at Violet’s sister’s house, Tom appears to be having a panic attack. He almost screws up his carefully planned romantic proposal to her, but soon the romantic proposal is proffered and accepted.
Then the postponements begin. Violet’s sister Suzie (Alison Brie) steals the limelight by getting knocked up at the engagement party by Tom’s dim-but-confident buddy, Alex ( Parks and Recreation’s Chris Pratt).
Next, they agree to postpone the wedding after Violet gets accepted at a two-year graduate program in Michigan. Tom agrees to go with her, sure that his big-city cooking skills will land him a chef’s job. Instead, he ends up making sandwiches at a deli, run by a pickling enthusiast and verbally-incontinent boss (Brian Posehn of The Sarah Silverman Program).
Violet, in contrast, finds herself a valued part of a team of cute, multiethnic, male and female geeks engaged in wacky experiments, under the guidance of a charismatic Welsh professor (Rhys Ifans).
Since Tom and Violet cohabit and socialize as a couple, marriage here is more of a question of inertia than impediments. (The last time an engagement ran this long in a movie was Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s A Very Long Engagement – and they had the Great War as an excuse).
The rumply Segel and vivacious Blunt make for an appealing beauty-and-the-beast kind of mismatched pair – he appears to be three times her size – and for the film’s first third, we’re happy enough to watch the couple as they whine and canoodle. But the erratic mix of slapstick and sincerity begins to feel increasingly queasy. Scenes cut on the punch line, jokes repeat, tender moments are disrupted with rude non-sequiturs.
There are at least two movies here, competing for the same space. The serious movie that might be extracted from the rubble could be called Scenes from a Pre-Marriage, an almost convincing portrait of a mismatched couple, realizing they’ve grown apart in spite of their affection for each other. Violet’s initial attraction to this boy-man, followed by disenchantment with his slovenly, self-pitying behaviour, is all-to-easy to understand.
The inchoate comedy here, like many Apatow scripts, might be called Learning to Love Male Inadequacy. Emasculated by his role as “faculty spouse,” Tom takes up with stay-at-home dad Bill ( Saturday Night Live veteran Chris Parnell), who knits oversized patterned sweaters and, to prove his masculinity, hunts deer. In a prolonged visual gag, Tom goes primitive with a vengeance, growing a patchy mountain-man beard, hanging deer carcasses in his garage and serving guests homemade mead in bark cups, which Alex suggests look like Chewbacca’s penis.
Ah, yes, the penises. Running throughout are Apatow’s familiar R-rated tricks, with inappropriate profanities, genital jokes, male nudity and even a couple of amputated digits, which provide, if not actually laughs, at least reactions.
Students of Freud (Violet has a picture of Sigmund on her bedroom wall, next to a Wham! poster), might easily conclude this is all about castration-anxiety theory, but what comes to mind is more basic. A lot more cutting would have made this movie much funnier – but it should have taken place in the editing room, not on the screen.
The Five-Year Engagement
- Directed by Nicholas Stoller
- Written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller
- Starring Jason Segel and Emily Blunt
- Classification: 14A
- 2 stars