In what can only be assumed to be a bid to avoid any more chick-lit adaptations, Hollywood appears to have started scraping the barrel when it comes to comedy plots these days. There’s a new trend of taking banal situations and acting as though they’re problems to be overcome (see upcoming Knocked Up spin-off This is 40, which deals with, you guessed it, characters turning 40). The Five-Year Engagement is one of these strange non-problem films.
And yet, thanks to a stellar cast and brilliant writing, it manages to pull it off. Jason Segel, as both main character Tom and co-writer with Nicholas Stoller (who he worked with previously on both The Muppets and Forgetting Sarah Marshall), pulls the whole thing together, but surrounding him is an excellent supporting cast with almost too-perfect comedic timing. In particular, Alison Brie as Violet’s sister does a mean British accent and an excellent Elmo imitation.
The Five-Year Engagement is one of those ‘does what it says on the tin’ deals. The plot concerns Violet (Emily Blunt) and Tom (Segel), a couple who fall in love but find their engagement put off repeatedly when Violet’s career aspirations get in the way. For five whole years. Normal couples might try to talk it out, or throw in the towel when things aren’t working out (especially when they get engaged after only a year; seriously, Hollywood?) but not Tom and Violet.
And this is where the film’s main problems lie. It’s funny, sure, to see Segel slowly lose it when his career stalls after being forced to move to Michigan, and Blunt gives warmth to the character of Violet when we might otherwise have seen her as a cold-hearted bully who forces her fiancé to do as she says. But is any of the over-arching plot realistic? Not really. Smaller moments certainly are; one scene detailing a bedroom argument is uncomfortably so (particularly when you make the mistake of going to see this film with your ex) and in real life, just as in this film, psychologists are annoying know-it-alls who think they understand every part of human nature.
There are a couple of surprises during the course of the film that the trailers thankfully haven’t spoiled, and these tend to redeem any problems the film has. It’s worth pointing out again that the writing really is splendid; Segel and Stoller are a duo that clearly work well. There are some lovely little details that add up slowly over the film, or else turn into more important features shortly after being first mentioned.
The Five-Year Engagement is a great feel-good film. It might feel as though it goes on for just a bit too long, but cramming over five years into one film is impressive, and the ending is worth it. But if your suspension of disbelief is broken, or leans towards a more cynical point of view, get your Jason Segel fix elsewhere.