Director: Nicholas Stoller
The Five-Year Engagement is a Judd Apatow production. Having said that sentence, the plot beats should spell themselves out before you even see the film. As we know, in an Apatow World, there’s a mismatched central couple (average Joe and ridiculously attractive girlfriend) who, through thick and thin, end up living happily ever after. Dare the writers (who are also the director and male lead) deviate from this tried and tested formula?
Jason Segel and director Nicholas Stoller are firmly in the same territory they mined when they made Forgetting Sarah Marshall. This time around, Segel’s lovable schlub is named Tom and he’s a chef in San Francisco. The lovely Emily Blunt plays his girlfriend, psychology researcher Violet. The film opens with Tom proposing to Violet. She agrees, but the actual nuptials run into hiccups in the planning, not least the couple having to move to Michigan for Emily to take up a postdoc research post. It’s unlikely this film would be made if this couple were more blue collar. As with all Apatow films, it’s relatively comfortable people suddenly dealing with the first bit of awkwardness in their perfectly ordered lives. Despite the challenges, it’s all too similar to Knocked Up or Forgetting Sarah Marshall to matter, so why do we care? The answer is simple: Segel and Blunt.
It might be the porcelain face, the high cheekbones or the utterly seductive smile, but Emily Blunt has an innate ability to strike sparks with her co-stars. She and Matt Damon made the undercooked The Adjustment Bureau tolerable, and now her chemistry with Segel elevate The Five-Year Engagement beyond the pratfalls. The move to Michigan leaves Tom frustrated at his curtailed cooking ability, as he’s reduced to working in a niche sandwich joint. Meanwhile, a romantic rival emerges in the form of Violet’s supervisor (Rhys Ifans). With a one-night stand and a baby forcing his best friend (Chris Pratt, scene-stealing jerk) and her sister (Alison Brie, scene-stealing ditz) to wed, and with grandparents threatening to expire, the pressures mount on Tom and Violet to decide whether or not to marry.
What makes this work is Segel and Blunt’s ability to make idiots of themselves. Watching the porky Segel fall over is fun, but watching an English rose like Blunt get hit in the face with a car door is even funnier. What’s more, as a couple they’re simply lovely. Forced plotlines like Tom’s “hunter-gatherer” phase (I’m not making this up) may not get laughs, but they’re held together by the two leads clear chemistry. Laughs are frequent, and often quite big, though not all the gags hit their mark. That said, The Five-Year Engagement does highlight some relationship pitfalls with warmth and candour. Indecision around a wedding is visibly grating, but even when the film favours a flat gag over honesty, Blunt and Segel make it work. If you’re getting stressed about your impending nuptials, The Five-Year Engagement might be worth a look, if only to remind yourself it could be worse. For everyone else, it’s an Apatow World; take it or leave it.