The romantic comedy genre doesn’t leave room for too many surprises. We know that at some point a boy will meet a girl, the boy will do something foolish and lose the girl, and then the boy will eventually get the girl back with a heartfelt speech, or a symbolic gesture of some sort. And vice-versa for every Kate Hudson and Katherine Heigl movie, of course. As viewers we know this going in, and all we ask is to be entertained along the way with characters that ring true, humor that’s original and acting that is believable (ahem, Ms. Heigl). Luckily, the writing team of Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segel seem to be well aware of the potential pitfalls of the rom-com. Just as they did with Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Stoller and Segel have crafted another original, witty, and charming story with The Five-Year Engagement.
The premise is relatively simple: Tom (Jason Segel), a chef in San Francisco, proposes to his girlfriend, Violet (Emily Blunt), in an elaborate romantic way. She says yes and everything seems perfect, but the title of the movie is not ironic – there are going to be some roadblocks along the way to these nuptials, so take your time with that RSVP and hold off on the gifts. The first obstacle involves Violet getting accepted to the University of Michigan to study and teach psychology. The events that transpire to delay the wedding aren’t the crux of the story. It’s more about how people that love each other don’t always completely know each other. And the journey to knowing each other can at times be absurd, humbling, painful and hilarious. As Segel described it in an amusing Q&A session after the screening presented by Film Independent at LACMA, “people make a mistake when they say ‘I Do’–[the movie] is a fluid exploration of a relationship.” When Segel was asked how he and Stoller channel their romantic sides for these movies, he quipped “Nick and I are the least masculine men in Hollywood.”
Nicholas Stoller, who also directed the movie, explained that before writing the script, he went back and re-watched movies like Annie Hall and Broadcast News. What he and Segel liked most about those two movies was the way their story lines wandered, yet remained interesting. Stoller was particularly interested in exploring, as he puts it, “long relationships that don’t really go anywhere.” For Segel, he enjoys movies that have no clear-cut “bad guy”, which makes sense, because when you think about Forgetting Sarah Marshall the potential romantic foil is a rock star that’s probably the funniest character in the film.
Blunt and Segel display great chemistry from the very first scene of The Five-Year Engagement, and Blunt unveils some surprising comedic chops (she is English after all, so you have to grade on a curve). The always funny Chris Pratt (“Parks and Recreation”) was a wise casting choice as Tom’s best friend, Alex. No one in Hollywood plays a better lovable doofus than Pratt (sorry, Sean William Scott). Although his character could easily become one-dimensional, neither he nor the script allows that to happen. He steals virtually every scene he’s in making it easy to imagine him in the leading role of this type of movie in the future. Similarly, Alison Brie is her usual adorable funny self as Violet’s sister, Suzie. For fans of “Community” and “Mad Men”, Brie’s British accent may seem jarring at first, but she pulls it off relatively well. From a comedic standpoint, Brie is fearless and really goes for it in several scenes. She and Blunt share one of the movie’s funniest exchanges (the audience was laughing so hard it was almost hard to hear), which involves a pitch-perfect Elmo impression.
The rest of the cast does an admirable job as well. Chris Parnell plays Tom’s whipped, sweater-knitting friend, while Mindy Kaling (“The Office”) and Kevin Hart play Violet’s colleagues at the University of Michigan. Brian Posehn, who is the ultimate “hey, what’s that guy from?” actor is also funny as hell. Visually, the movie does a great job of contrasting the excitement and beauty of San Francisco with the bleak, insufferable cold of Michigan (sorry Michigan readers, but it’s true). Speaking of insufferable, there is a whole lot of Van Morrison music laden throughout the movie. Personally, he’s never been a favorite of mine, but perhaps I’m nitpicking here, most people love him.
What’s most endearing about The Five-Year Engagement is that it takes the clichéd parts of the romantic comedy and turns them on their head in a way that leads to several laugh-out-loud moments. From Tom’s opening night proposal to the climactic wedding scene, I never found myself saying, “yeesh, that’s been done.” And that’s really all you can ask for. Well, that and a little less Van Morrison.