FILM REVIEW: THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT

By Michael Phillips 2012-10-18

Tribune Newspapers Critic

3 1/2 stars

A lot of terrible romantic comedies come along in a given year, and after five or six you begin to question your belief in anything -- romance, comedy, movies, even terribleness itself. Before you know it, you're trying to break the fever and hit bottom, deliberately, with repeated viewings of films co-starring either Katherine Heigl or Gerard Butler or, worse, their near-lethal joint effort, the Yugo of rom-coms: "The Ugly Truth."

So. When something as sharp and funny as "The Five-Year Engagement" comes along, it means something. I really like this film, loose flaps, protracted finale and all. As in last year's "Bridesmaids," an authentic, dimensional human element animates the jokes and the characters with whom we spend a couple of highly satisfying hours.

Jason Segel, lately muppeting around in "The Muppets," co-wrote the script with director Nicholas Stoller, his "Muppets" partner, who also directed Segel in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." The movie begins where others typically wrap it up. San Francisco chef Tom Solomon (Segel) proposes to Violet Barnes, played by the fabulous Emily Blunt. She's angling on doctoral studies in social psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. But when the call comes, it's from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Plans are adjusted. Tom gives up his shot at running the kitchen in a fancy new Bay Area bistro to relocate, with Violet, to Ann Arbor, where after a deceptively quick job-hunting sequence he finds work at the finest deli between the coasts, Zingerman's, which is a real place (and what a place!) and a presence as crucial as any in the formidable "Five-Year Engagement" ensemble.

Tom and Violet hear their wedding bells, but fate and their own doubts conspire to keep them off in the distance. While they postpone their marriage for one reason, and then another, Tom's best friend and fellow chef Alex (Chris Pratt) hooks up with Violet's sister, Suzie (Alison Brie). Theirs seems like a haphazard coupling with no future, but before long they have a child on the way, leaving Tom and Violet in the dust, Facebook update-wise.

"This is your wedding!" Suzie tells Violet before the first postponement. "You only get a few of those!" The punch line's clever, but it's not delivered for an imaginary laugh track. Stoller's film proceeds with a blithe confidence. In outline form, "The Five-Year Engagement" goes by the numbers. The script creates useful supporting cliques for both major characters. Violet's psych-study group, led by her subtly wolfish professor (Rhys Ifans), is a prime group of eccentrics, including Mindy Kaling as a researcher of considerable undermining skills. Tom falls in with the Zingerman's pickle expert (Brian Posehn) and improbably discovers deer hunting with another "faculty husband," a mild-mannered fellow played by Chris Parnell.

Shooting in San Francisco and Ann Arbor, cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe (who's worked with Pedro Almodovar) lends "The Five-Year Engagement" a lovely sheen, far easier on the eye than any previous Judd Apatow-produced comedy. The narrative formulas aren't exactly new; they wouldn't be formulas if they were. But one scene in particular seals our investment in the story. It's a late-night argument, following a dicey encounter between Violet and her mentor, and the way Blunt and Segel build the scene, it feels utterly true (without sacrificing the funny). Segel and Blunt are enormously likable people on screen, armed with wide-eyed charm and stealthy timing. When the relationship at the movie's heart threatens to erode from within, you feel for both halves equally. And by the end, you realize how seldom this happens in this most devalued of genres.

MPAA rating: R (for sexual content and language throughout).

Running time: 2:04.

Cast: Jason Segal (Tom); Emily Blunt (Violet); Chris Pratt (Alex); Alison Brie (Suzie); Brian Posehn (Tarquin).

Credits: Directed by Nicholas Stoller; written by Stoller and Jason Segel; produced by Judd Apatow, Stoller and Rodney Rothman. A Universal Pictures release.

Back to Movie Details

Movie News

FILE-- This Jan. 7, 1970 file photo shows a photographer standing on the Dike Bridge, near where U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy drove his car into the water in July 1969, on Chappaquiddick Island in Edgartown, Mass. on Martha's Vineyard. A new feature film is in the works about the tragedy on the small Massachusetts island nearly a half century ago that rocked the Kennedy political dynasty. Mary Jo Kopechne, a passenger in the car, was killed after Kennedy drove his car off the bridge. (AP Photo, File)
'Chappaquiddick' film to examine Kennedy's infamous crashA new feature film is in the works about the tragedy on a small Massachusetts island nearly a half century ago that rocked the Kennedy political dynasty
The Associated Press2 hours ago
Chicago: Stop legal fight to look at new Lucas Museum siteChicago wants a judge to suspend a legal fight over "Star Wars" creator George Lucas' plans to build a museum at one lakefront location while the city explores an alternative location
The Associated Press18 hours ago
Box office top 20: 'The Jungle Book' tops newcomersBox office top 20: "The Jungle Book" extended its box-office reign to three weeks, easily besting a handful of newcomers that made little impact
The Associated Press19 hours ago
In this image released by Disney, Anthony Mackie, from left,  Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen appear in a scene from "Captain America: Civil War." (Disney-Marvel via AP)
Review: The Avengers divide in revitalizing 'Civil War'Review: In the ashes of "Avengers: Age of Ultron" comes what is easily one of Marvel's strongest films, "Captain America: Civil War," an engaging, lively and just flat out fun use of the characters we've come to know over the last eight years.
The Associated Press20 hours ago
FILE - In this Oct. 1, 2015, file photo, visitors take pictures in font of a poster of Busan International Film Festival near Busan Cinema Center in Busan, South Korea. The future of Asia’s largest, most-awaited film festival is in question as local filmmakers threaten to boycott the red carpet over what they view as government interference. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)
Feud over artistic independence threatens Asian film festThe future of Asia's largest, most-awaited film festival is in question as local filmmakers threaten to boycott the red carpet over what they view as government interference
The Associated Press1 day ago
Movie News