The Five-Year Engagement wrings a slightly different change on the old boy-meets-girl formula -- and finds enough big laughs to make the whole thing enjoyable, even if it's never particularly fresh.
Written by Jason Segel and Nick Stoller (who also directed), Engagement brings together the same mix of the romantic, the painful and the humiliating to create a solid comedy (though one that could afford to lose 20 minutes; ahh, the Judd Apatow influence).
Segel and Stoller also wrote Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the movie that lifted Segel out of the throng of Apatown actors flooding the film market. Like Seth Rogen, he's nobody's idea of beefcake -- but he's an intensely human and open actor, who captures the restless energy of young adulthood. He also simmers better than a lot of his contemporaries, just before he boils over.
He plays Tom, a rising chef on the San Francisco restaurant scene. He's involved with Violet (Emily Blunt), to whom he's engaged to be married. A psychological researcher, Violet upsets their various plans when she is accepted for a fellowship at the University of Michigan. Tom puts his career on hold and follows her. They also postpone the wedding, figuring they'll wait until the end of her fellowship before they move back to the Bay Area and get married.
Michigan, however, proves to be more than either reckoned for. She finds unexpected professional success, creating a research project that not only wins her the attention of her smarmy department head (Rhys Ifans) but a tenure-track teaching position that will, in essence, make Ann Arbor their permanent home.
Segel and Stoller's script is about the tragicomic effects of these sudden career reversals for Tom, who has been biding his time making sandwiches in a local deli. He's tried to sublimate his frustration with his career by immersing himself in local culture, which leads to a bizarrely funny sequence in which he shows off the spoils of his newfound love for and skill at deer hunting.
Ulitmately, any serious relationship involves compromise and sacrifice. But Stoller and Segel dig deeper, finding comedy in the notion of how blind one partner can be to the feelings of the other.
Not that the movie doesn't stretch itself thin. The whole relationship between Blunt and Ifans -- the seductive professor whose approval means so much -- goes on too long to too little result. Apatow's films, as a director or a producer, tend to let the camera run while the actors riff -- and then to include virtually anything that got a laugh on the set. Thankfully, Stoller shows more restraint with that kind of material.
Segel and Blunt have an easy chemistry that makes you root for this couple to find a way to stay together. Chris Pratt and Alison Brie steal whole scenes as Tom's best pal and Violet's sister, who also wind up together.
The Five-Year Engagement has more big laughs than any comedy so far this year. While the bar has been set low so far, this film raises it considerably.
Find more reviews, interviews and commentary on my website.
Follow Marshall Fine on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hollywoodnfine