Five-Year Engagement, The: Starring Jason Segel and Emily Blunt

The history of Hollywood romantic comedy in the new millennium can be written by focusing on one figure, Judd Apatow, and his empire.

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“The Five-Year Engagement,” the latest high-concept comedy out of his laugh factory, is billed as a work “from the director and writer-star of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall joining forces with the producer of “Bridesmaids.”

There is variable quality–sort of hierarchy–to Apatow’s comedies: His own efforts, “The 40 Year Old Virgin” and “Knocked-Up,” are the best, and by comparison, “Five-Year Engagement” is a more modest, less funny, less irreverent comedy.

The film’s major players, Jason Segel and especially Emily Blunt, have been circling around major stardom for half a decade now, but they are not up there—not yet. Both actors need a significant role to catapult them to the industry’s major league of players.

What sets “Five Year Engagement” apart is that the tale begins where most romantic comedies usually end. Exactly one year after Tom Solomon (Segel) met Violet Barnes (Blunt), he surprises her with a ring.

As they head out to a New Year’s Eve party (couldn’t the event be set on a different night), Tom fakes a reason to drop by work. The staff patio at the trendy Birch, with its view of San Francisco’s Bay Bridge, seems to be the perfect place to pop the question.

Tom is understandably nervous, but all the necessary pieces are in place: the candles are lit, the champagne is chilled, and so on. Only one person, Tom’s best friend Alex (Chris Pratt), is in on the secret. Unfortunately, they are late for the party, and Violet fights him on the pit stop. Frustrated, Tom blurts out his agenda, and bingo, they are engaged!

On the surface, by all accounts, Tom and Violet are destined for each other. As a sous-chef at Birch, Tom is ripe for promotion. Academia is Violet’s main interest, and she expects to get a postdoctoral assignment in social psychology at Berkeley.

Violet is the kind of femme who can handle everything and anything with grace and ease. As far as she is concerned, she will spearhead the wedding logistics and she’ll marry Tom in no time at all.

Getting the perfect wedding venue offers the usual amount of headaches, but is less painful than Violet’s rejection by her dream school. Later on, when the University of Michigan beckons, she’s conflicted. But Tom swallows his pride and encourages her to accept the offer. After all, he can apply his modernist cooking to any locale, including Michigan. An in the overall scheme, postponing the wedding by two years is a short time.

No comedy is good enough if it doesn’t have some supporting characters to share the burden of the stars. Thus, in Ann Arbor, Violet is placed under the guidance of the brilliant faculty advisor Winton (Rhys Ifans). She also makes quick friends with her fellow grad students, Doug (Kevin Hart), Vaneetha (Mindy Kaling), and Ming (Randall Park).

Problem is, for the first time in the relationship, Tom is left with too much time on his hands. Settling into Michigan life, Tom gets a job at Zingerman’s Deli, a local hangout but lacking the chic and class of the dining he is used to. He bonds with co-worker Tarquin (Brian Posehn) and even tries hunting at the behest of the other “faculty spouse,” Bill (Chris Parnell).

Meanwhile, back home in San Francisco, Alex gets the restaurant promotion that should have been Tom’s and marries Violet’s quirky sister, Suzie (Alison Brie). This couple quickly has two kids while Tom and Violet still struggle to establish a suitable wedding date.

From the outside, Tom and Violet feel that life seems to be working out easily for everyone but them. The wedding, once dreamed of as the perfect day, has become an ordeal, something both just want to get it over with.

The couple loses control over their time and plans as the story goes along, for various reasons, some of which comic, resulting in a series of disaster that torpedo every “save the date.”

Soon the couple begins to doubt whether they are meant for each other. Maybe the wedding was not meant to be. But going through the trials, Tom and Violet discover who they are and who they will become as a couple. Above all, they need to learn the hard way if they really have what it takes to survive their five-year engagement.

Working from a screenplay he co-penned with actor Segel, director Stoller piles up one obstacle after another, without which there is no story—and no comedy. But after a while, the central premise becomes exhausting, and the comedy feels too schematic and too long before it reaches its predictable coda.

What makes this quite verbose and calculated comedy enjoyable—up to a point—is the good rapport between Segel and Blunt, both modest and appealing performers who exude the kind of charm ordinary folks can relate to.

Attractive but not drop-dead gorgeous, Blunt is a versatile actress with quite a range, playing a secondary part in the comedy “The Devil Wears Prada,” a movie that belonged to Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway, a lead in a mediocre costume picture, “Young Victoria,” a supporting partner to Matt Damon in “The Adjustment Bureau,” and so on.

So what will make Emily Blunt a bona fide Hollywood star? A good, substantial role in a commercial movie that will enable her to show her considerable dramatic chops and command the screen, the way Sigourney Weaver did in “Alien,” Sissy Spacek in “A Coal Miner’s Daughter,” Meryl Streep in “Sophie’s Choice,” Jessica Lange in “Francis,” Cameron Diaz in “There’s Something About Mary,” Reese Witherspoon in “Walk the Line.”