By: Addison Wylie
There are many scenes in The Five-Year Engagement where it’ll be hard for movie goers to separate themselves from the movie without being reminded of being in similar situations. For instance, a quick scene where Tom Solomon (played by Jason Segel) is having a disagreement with his friend Alex (played by Chriss Pratt) about flirting vs. being friendly especially rang true because I’ve been on Tom’s side before when talking to my Fiancée.
But, The Five-Year Engagement isn’t a movie specifically made for my Fiancée and I nor other couples who have been in long engagements. This very funny and smart film brought to us by the team who wrote Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The Muppets has moments like that for everyone. It manages to be honest while balancing humour in all the right places.
Segel and Nicholas Stoller’s screenplay covers a lot of ground starting from when Tom and his Fiancée Violet (played by Emily Blunt) first met each other. Both leads have great chemistry and quite often make us forget that these two are actors. The relationship between Tom and Violet is believable even when outlandish events happen (i.e. Violet accidentally being shot in the leg with a crossbow).
The film takes its time establishing the characters and showing us what their lives were like before the life defining crossroads take effect. After becoming engaged, Violet, who is wanting to expand her knowledge in psychology, gets the chance to go to school in Michigan. Tom chooses to pack his bags with her and start from scratch in this new area. Perhaps, keep carrying on his career as a chef. The transition from the sunny scape of San Francisco to the snowy climate of Michigan is effective as we see instantly how both living conditions are very different. However, it does seem like the cutaways of Michigan have been pulled from a promotional videocassette. Whether that was intentional or not is unknown but the difference from the sharp cinematography to grainy video is distracting nonetheless.
The adjustments Segel goes through are authentic and relatable. When we see Tom try to shop his overqualified resume around to potential eateries, we can’t help but feel for him. The fish-out-of-water gags involving Segel in this different and colder environment are handled correctly and each punchline has terrific timing.
Tom also meets new eccentric people with hilarious results. Familiar faces Brian Posehn and Chris Parnell have lots of great moments of awkward exchanges and killer jokes. However, Parnell does have the upper hand on Posehn though, simply because of Parnell’s wardrobe. He could simply just stand in front of the camera and his earnestness would garner laughs.
What’s really neat about the script and about Stoller’s direction is that he never represents anyone as “the bad guy”. There are plenty of people who are frustrated that Tom and Violet keep pushing back their wedding but once they get their moment to speak, we can understand why they feel like that. Jacki Weaver is a strong example of this. Weaver, who plays Violet’s Mom, is introduced as a cranky complainer. But, during a scene where Violet and her are talking, we get a more clear understanding of her perspective on marriage.
Another good example is Rhys Ifans, who plays Violet’s professor Winton. From how he acts around Violet and how he looks at her, we can’t help but get the feeling that he would be some sort of contribution towards the crux of Violet and Tom’s relationship. However, his character is acted and developed in such a particular way that an audience can never hate him for doing the things he does. He makes decisions that are obviously wrong but it’s easy to understand what makes the man appealing.
As the wedding gets delayed, we see Alex go through his own relationship. Again, he never seems like “the bad guy” because he’s beaten his best friend to getting married or having children. We see him as a guy who starts out immaturely ignorant who goes through his own character arcs. By the end, he’s fully matured and actually has more stable thoughts.
Another wise decision about handling Alex’s relationship is that it’s used as a time keeper. We rarely get any title cards telling audiences how many years later it’s been because the time has been documented in this budding family. For example, we’ll see Alex’s wife pregnant and then a couple scenes later, we’ll see her holding their newborn baby. That said, the pacing never feels rushed and those clues regarding how much time has passed never feel overly highlighted.
I had a similar feeling with The Five-Year Engagement as I had last year with Will Gluck’s Friends With Benefits. It’s a long film and when watching, you realize how long it is. However, this isn’t a problem because of how captivating, amusing, and damn convincing the characters are. We’re interested in seeing where these people end up and if that means sticking with the film for over two hours, then so be it.
This is another one of Judd Apatow’s produced flicks and out of all the films he has overseen, this is the most mature effort he’s been involved with. This is a very well managed, very sweet, and very funny film for adults. Chalk The Five-Year Engagement as another win for Segel, Stoller, and everyone involved with the production.