The Five-Year Engagement isn’t a bad movie. It isn’t even a mediocre movie. It features an awesome cast, a talented director of comedy, and a solid screenplay; it also benefits from bearing Judd Apatow’s brand. And yet, it lacks something I can’t quite put my finger on—a bit more irreverence, a little more raunch, some additional poignancy. There’s just something keeping this from being a legitimately good movie.
The film opens with Tom (Jason Segel) proposing to Violet (Emily Blunt) on the anniversary of their first meeting. Tom, overly nervous and insecure, charmingly botches the surprise, but the evening proceeds like the closing of a fairy tale. A lesser romantic comedy would probably end on this note—most rom coms focus on the guy and the girl getting together, not whatever happens later—but this is where The Five-Year Engagement begins. Hence the title.
The two young enthusiastic lovers begin planning their dream wedding in San Francisco, but life, however, finds a way of intervening. Tom continues to pursue his career as a high end chef; Violet gets accepted into a doctoral program at the University of Michigan. They decide to put the wedding on hold. Tom’s idiot best friend (Chris Pratt) and Violet’s silly sister (Alison Brie) hastily get married in the meantime and begin a family of their own. Tom puts his career on hold to follow Violet to Michigan and even more time passes as the two wait for their dream wedding to materialize.
Pretty soon the two start to become bored with the relationship. Violet gets sucked into academia and begins favoring her educated co-workers whereas Tom suffers from depression as a result of being an underemployed, domesticated man. They continue to lose common ground, and they begin to resent each other.
This is pretty ballsy stuff for a romantic comedy, and co-writers Segel and Nicholas Stoller (also pulling directing duties) must have the utmost faith their audience to draft a story that is both genuine and kind of depressing at its core. And yes, this movie has some of the usual dick jokes and occasional explosions of crude humor that characterize Judd Apatow productions—it is not nearly as much of a depressing bore as my synopsis made it sound. And yet I just can’t quite like this one.
Jason Segel and Emily Blunt make for a good onscreen couple. They’re warm and funny and attractive, but attractive in a normal sense; they aren’t the overly airbrushed and talentless human mannequins we typically see in Hollywood romantic comedies. The characters they play, however, aren’t wildly funny or particularly compelling.
Tom and Violet are a pleasant young couple. If they were real, I would want to be friends with them. In fact, I have friends like them. The engaged duo in this movie, however, never move beyond the realm of pleasant. They aren’t unconventional enough to make The Five-Year Engagement hilarious enough to function as a great comedy, and their situation isn’t dire enough to make this a wrenching melodrama. It simply exists in a limbo between funny and sad.
This movie isn’t fantastic, but I don’t want to call it mediocre either. There’s a certain honesty to it that is refreshing. This is one of the few romantic comedies that eschews that fantastical bullshit Hollywood world view that every man has an attractive quirky soul mate waiting for him. Instead The Five-Year Engagement offers the more pragmatic and useful advice to find someone you can generally stand to be around and marry that person.
Tom and Violet will continue to have problems because they aren’t perfect for each other—they are two distinct human beings with different goals and interests—but they also come away realizing that they aren’t perfect, but they do love each other, their relationship has value, and a valuable relationship requires work. That’s a relatively novel message coming from a Hollywood romantic comedy, and one worth stating, particularly when the American movie industry continue to pump out Nicholas Sparks’ baffling popular hokey bullshit.