Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Five-Year Engagement: Love Has Only One Boundary - Michigan

The Five-Year Engagement
Directed By: Nicholas Stoller
Written By: Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller
Starring: Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Christ Pratt, Alison Brie, Mimi Kennedy, David Paymer, Jacki Weaver, Kevin Hart, Rhys Ifans, Dakota Johnston, Mindy Kailing, Randall Park, Chris Parnell, and Brian Posehn.
Director of Photography: Javier Aguirresarobe, Editor: , Production Designer: , Original Music:

            The opening sequence of The Five-Year Engagement, a romantic comedy with surprising warmth and maturity, sets the stage for our couple destined to be. Tom (Jason Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt) are driving to her sister’s home when Tom starts talking about some receipts he forgot and must run back to the restaurant he works at. Violet looks at him strangely, as Tom becomes more and more panicked about what seems like a miniscule problem. Finally, he stops the car and slaps an engagement ring on the dashboard. Violet is more than excited, despite Tom’s despondence over failing to create a surprise. But Violet loves him too much, and Violet insists on going trough with the charade, even though the outcome is inevitable. And it is still romantic, and still funny, and still made my heart swell.

            Despite its labeling as the latest bro-comedy from the Judd Apatow machine, Nicholas Stoller’s The Five Year Engagement breaks and bends the mold to really explore what exactly relationships and commitment really mean. Written by Stoller and star Jason Segel (last seen collaborating on The Muppets), it’s the most ambitious of the brand of romantic comedy from Apatow’s brand, and the duo knock it out of the park. The film isn’t just for laughs, or to teach one sided a lesson. This is a film about two people who we know are right from the start learning to accept that challenge, and not let “life” get in the way. And by filling their narrative with some of the most comedic talents one could ever ask for, Stoller and Segel have stapled themselves as a worthy successor to Woody Allen with this gem of a film.

            Although the engagement of Tom and Violet seems destined for a happily ever after, problems soon arise as Violet’s plan to get a Post-Doc in Psychology at Berkeley gets derailed and leaves her only with a job in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Tom decides to give up a position at a prominent San Francisco Oyster Bar to head out to the Midwest, though work is tight and he can only find a spot as a local sandwich shop. Despite pressures from their parents—most notably Animal Kingdom’s Jacki Weaver, slicing her words like vermin—Tom and Violet continue to push back their wedding until things seem “right.”

            It seems like a simple lesson about learning that there with never be a “right” time, but I found Five-Year Engagement’s character motivations completely logical and honest instead of simply going for laughs. Stoller and Segel don’t just use Violet’s position as a plot development—an experiment involving stale donuts starts as a thematic device and weaves itself throughout the narrative in often funny and surprising ways. Plus, the film’s support cast continually lightens the mature tone to something much more familiar to those who saw Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Segel gives us nudity, but nothing full frontal). Chris Pratt brings the same intense confidence of stupidity as he does to Andy on Parks & Recreation. Early in the plot, he actually marries Violet’s sister, Suzie, who is played with a hilarious though pretty flawless British accent by Community and Mad Men star Alison Brie (she and Blunt almost steal the film with an argument in the film where they yell at each other using Sesame Street characters).  Beyond them, you get Rhys Ifans (creepy and super athletic), Dakota Johnston (perfectly na├»ve), Mindy Kailing (always there for a one-liner), Kevin Hart (constantly surprising), and too many more to count.

            But it’s the heart of the narrative, as Tom and Violet try to battle between what feels right in the head and what feels right in the heart that kept the film going through its two hour run time (yes a little too long, but I couldn’t tell you what to cut). The film plays quite equal with the sexes, and while Segel is certainly playing the man-boy type so familiar to us, the film makes him much more mature and unique that he loses such archetype feelings. Blunt plays off his big oafish presence perfectly, weaning her ice-cold character mold for something much more honest and adorable (the film nicely lets her hair change throughout the film, which gives a sense of the passing of time). And when the two fight, Stoller and Segel never cushion it—it gets dirty, and a bit brutal, and you can feel the tension between these two terrific actors. Even better, the film treats its audience as smart as it does its protagonists—neither of them are “dumb,” just emotionally unsure (though we get plenty of physical comedy nonetheless).

            Although some third act machinations might not be realistic (which I find a somewhat questionable criticism, given that this is a film where a four-year-old shoots someone with a crossbow), The Five-Year Engagement always remains emotionally complete. The end, a big and sappy moment, had me engaged with large smiles, and is actually surprisingly open ended in some ways that make this film quite mature. The Five-Year Engagement takes a somewhat simple premise, and continually builds and surprises. It’s one of the few films from the genre in which I feel like I learned something. And considering how schlocky most are, that’s a tremendous compliment. 

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