I like to say up-front when I might not be in agreement with the majority of audiences sometimes, and that’s fine. Judging from the packed house I saw The Five-Year Engagement with and their applause at the end of the film, I’m probably off base with what the majority of the public will think, but as a critical thinker I would like to make you think about what you’re watching. I mean, that’s why you guys read this stuff, right?
If I’m being honest about my personal feelings – which, you know, is what I’m paid to do – I can say that I laughed sporadically for the first 30 minutes of this ungodly long fiasco before slowly regressing to the point where I was constantly watching through the palm of my hand like I had been sitting through a horror film as to just how standard and off putting it was managing to be at the same time. A massive comedown from the work actor Jason Segel and his co-writer/director partner-in-crime Nicholas Stoller did on Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The Muppets, The Five-Year Engegement can never decide on a tone, wastes a stellar supporting cast and points out the inherent flaw in the cult of Jason Segel.
Segel and Emily Blunt play a madly in love couple – he’s a San Francisco sous chef and she’s an ex-pat Brit on fast track to her doctorate in behavioural psychology – who constantly have to delay their nuptials due to life’s little complications. When an opportunity at a faculty position opens up at the University of Michigan, the pair put their lives on hold so she can pursue her career, while he toils miserably away at a deli and their love grows further and further apart.
Now with a cast of actors that include Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, David Paymer, Rhys Ifans, Mindy Kaling, Kevin Hart, Chris Parnell, and Brian Posehn, there should be more to this story, but there absolutely isn’t. This film isn’t anything more than an extremely by-the-numbers romantic comedy that refuses to admit that it has nothing new or interesting to bring to the table. It would have been much better had they gone the Nicholas Sparks route and made this as weepy as possible, because when Segel and Stoller try to combine high drama with gags from the Judd Apatow playbook, it never gels for a second making things feel even more unbelievable than they already are.
The standard romantic comedy mixes with Segel and Stoller’s incessant pandering to the males in the audience, which means that the leads have to be humiliated in some incredibly harsh ways and scattering unfunny and unoriginal gross out gags throughout the film. It’s not funny watching someone get shot with a crossbow or losing a toe to frostbite or watching someone get so depressed that they become a spaced out mountain man who’s clearly given up. The very basic nature of the film’s mean streak constantly wars with the boring love story.
It’s quite telling that a major plot point in the film would be a psychological test being run at Blunt’s job, because the film can act almost as a test of its own the way it seems to constantly blame the woman in the relationship for all the faults. When the inevitable break in the relationship hits, the blame entirely gets laid at the foot of the woman despite the guy being an enormous ass. I don’t care how many times Segel’s character coasts along with his puppy dog eyes, it doesn’t change the fact that he’s ultimately the selfish one, despite the film blowing off his character’s transgressions off later in the film by saying he was doped up on a bunch of pain killers (after the fact, I might add) and that Blunt’s transgressions were the result of her just not being able to handle his selfish, manchild ways that people seem to find so endearing in these movies. At one point Segel berates his on screen love interest by saying “Your premise is bullshit,” which is both true and insulting as meta-text sense since Segel wrote the damned character.
Segel and Blunt do have some very nice chemistry at times – mostly when they’re actually acting serious and having arguments – but while Blunt shines above the material, Segel drowns in the script he clearly wrote for himself. It dawned on me during this movie that Jason Segel has officially become the Keanu Reeves of comedy. He’s the same guy in every single movie. He never even goes from point A to point B. He stays at point A the entire time. It’s nearly impossible to tell a happy Segel from a depressed one because his delivery is the exact same no matter what. Just like Reeves, that shtick doesn’t work in every movie and it definitely does this material no favours. Even the scenes where Segel reaches above a monotone don’t work because the film spends so much time trying to play up the peripheral characters that when the shit hits the fan in the relationship, there’s no emotional payoff.
The real leads of this film should be Chris Pratt and Alison Brie, as Segel’s best friend and co-worker and Blunt’s sister who end up sleeping together and are forced to have a shotgun wedding. Tonally, these two characters are in their own movie, and a vastly more entertaining one. Sure, a movie around them would essentially just end up being a take on Apatow’s Knocked Up, but at least there would be consistency. Unfortunately, they are set adrift like the rest of the cast who seem to be there only to cover up the film’s complete lack of comedic material, something that becomes inherently apparent in an awful sequence where Brie and Blunt have a serious discussion where they do Sesame Street impressions because Segel and Stoller just refuse to come out and say something without having to annoyingly tart it all up.
It’s a trick that Apatow (who unsurprisingly produced this film) and Adam Sandler learned long ago. If you cast a movie with familiar faces, audiences will be psychologically tricked into thinking what they are seeing is funny despite the fact that none of them are doing anything at all. The actors I listed above except for Pratt and Brie are simply there to react to things happening. They are just there to break up tension or create jokes where they aren’t needed, forcing the idea that what you are seeing is funny. Hart and Kaling get the absolute worst here as Blunt’s co-workers as they are both extremely funny people simply there to add some minority colour to a white washed movie by providing funny expressions.
98% of what happens in the film could be seen coming from deep space without a microscope, which would be fine if Stoller and Segel just embraced what movie it was they were actually making. This story is as painfully earnest as last week’s The Lucky One, but it constantly pulls back to include ill tempered scenes where the leads are berated by co-workers and friends as being losers for no reason, a gag involving a dead deer that goes nowhere, and forced jokes about overbearing parents that are so old they’ve become fossilized. But Stoller still directs it all with painful looking close-ups and shots of open fields and snow covered city streets that have become staples of the romantic drama.
In the end, I’m not mad at Segel and Stoller or the movie overall, but I am intensely disappointed, which if you talk to you parents a lot, you know is far worse. For such a simple film to pull off, to not settle on a tone and to drag it out beyond the two hour mark is excruciating. It’s the kind of film that would be over in a matter of seconds if the characters just talked once in a while and stopped screwing around. Then again, there wouldn’t be a movie if they did. It’s a real shame because everyone involved is fully capable of better work than this.