The Five Year Engagement is the lastest released film produced by the King of Laugh-meisters – Judd Apatow. Working with Director and co-screewriter Nick Stoller, and the film’s star star and co-screenwriter Jason Segel, the boys have taken a run at the rom/com genre (again).
There’s a number of things that can be said about The Five Year Engagement. The film does not turn the genre on its head, or turn it inside out, or even play it backwards. Instead they’ve taken a realistic (most of the time) situation of a girl and boy having met who proceed through a courtship and then decide to marry. I think we join them at their engagement party with a brief flash-back to show how they met.
It is at this point, with the marriage plans set in motion, the wedding is all but a fait accompli when things start to happen. Events like unexpected delays (her sister’s pregnancy), deaths in the family, and even deviations like picking up all that matters and moving from San Francisco to Ann Arbor, Michigan where our leading lady, Violet, portrayed wonderfully by Emily Blunt, has accepted a postdoctoral research fellowhip in the University of Michigan’s pysch department.
Her boyfriend, Tom Solomon, played by Jason Segel, who had been on the fast-track in his chosen field – he was a sous chef – has no choice. Hold on, actually he has two choices.
A) He can take the high road which means to come along with Violet, and re-start his career in Ann Arbor (as he says – I’m a cook – I can work anywhere) and since Emily’s contract is only for two years (he says, two years are nothing compared to the rest of their lives) they can rework and reform their wedding plans while in Michigan.
This is the road most commonly chosen, although usually, it is the woman who must put her career on hold. Quite often, things will work themselves out, and everyone for the most part, will be happy.
B) He can take the low road which means to come along with Violet, and he can restart his career in Ann Arbor. While the wedding plans are being re-made, he can wear the sack cloth and ashes of a martyr, while he makes Violet feel guilty for taking her job and forcing him to make the detour in his career path. Usually it is the woman who wields the guilt club in this type of situation; so kudos to Segel and Stoller for changing this up for us. Normally, with either of the two parties in this situation start tossing around the guilt trips, this usually leads to each of them becoming even more unhappy and eventually the relationship develops cracks and fissures which become an abyss and kills the relationship.
This path is never chosen, but yet, this is where many many couples end up.
Violet, the psych major, is sharp and perceptive, and she sees that this could happen to them, so at her insistence, they work their way through and discuss all of this before departure to Michigan. Tom is a good guy and he too can see the – I’ll be miserable, and probably make you be miserable – as a possible scenario, and there’s no way he wants that to happen. So he gives assurances that he wants to go off with Violet while she pursues her career in academia, and he’s perfectly happy that his career path requires a new start.
There’s your set up.
Blunt and Segel have a delightful chemistry between them. You won’t be able to pick and choose between them for a favorite. Both show very well on any kind of likeability graph or chart that you could dream up.
Of course there are many zany relatives, friends, and co-workers present to whip this frothy mixture into a delicious meringue.
Now that I’ve turned this review towards food, I can make another filmic comparison for you. Back in 1972 Luis Bunuel delivered his career masterpiece – The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeiose. In that great film, a group of French couples simply cannot go from a plan to go out and enjoy a dinner together to actually sitting down and eating.
Bunuel created a series of almost surreal interruptions – the host and hostess don’t show up for their own dinner party because they thought it was for the following Saturday night, not this Saturday night – or the’re off in the shrubbery making love. Or the couples insist on entering a restaurant because the door was open only to find that the restaurant’s owner and chef has died and they’ve come to the restaurant in the midst of his wake. Or the Spanish Inquisition arrives – sorry – make that a group of Army officers in the middle of some war games maneuvers, and they insist on being fed. And so forth.
You get the idea.
Here, we are in the same country (the land of interrupted plans) if not the same town (this time it is a marriage rather than a dinner party).
The film has laughs a plenty, despite a rather slow, and a bit of an awkward start, as well as songs a plenty from the Van Morrison song book. There’s lots of sex though there’s no nudity.
The funny situations range from the preparation of foie gras to a tacos-on-wheels truck, and from a romp in the snow to severe shrinkage (all Seinfeld fans will recognized that reference). Another involves day-old-donuts as a triggering mechanism in a psych experiment.
Finally, we get to watch Rhys Irfans, whom we loved as the skinny kicker Nigel The Leg in the football film The Replacements, and he played the wacky roommate Spike to Hugh Grant’s William Thacker in Notting Hill which starred Julia Roberts.
Here he plays a rather nice guy – one Winton Childs, the department head in the psych department at the U of M where Blunt’s Violet has opted to work. Watch for him in a chase sequence which while not the least bit believeable, has been so beautifully staged that it yields a number of engagingly funny surprises.
While not everything works in the film, and it does run a tad long at 124 minutes – I found out it quite entertaining. I’m giving it a very liberal four point zero on the one to five scale, and I’m telling you that I’m glad I went to see it. It doesn’t require any kind of in-depth thinking; it is light, but is still very thought provoking. I mean it is a funny film about a serious situation – you know – the one where nearly every couple arrives at an intersection or crossroads, where a missed turn or incorrect turn could change the whole state of the relationship. Simply – don’t go in expecting surprises – or a new meaningful way of thinking about relationship issues. That’s not the purpose of the film. Do expect to laugh – because you definitely will do so.
Our next review: Safe starring Jason Statham.