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"THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT"
(2012) (Jason Segel, Emily Blunt) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: An engaged couple keeps getting tripped up by life's choices as they plan their wedding.
PLOT:
On the one-year anniversary of their first meeting, sous chef Tom (JASON SEGEL) proposes to psychology student Violet (EMILY BLUNT). Most of their family is thrilled. Tom's mom and dad (MIMI KENNEDY and DAVID PAYMER) want a traditional Jewish wedding. Violet's divorced mom and dad (JACKI WEAVER and JIM PIDDOCK) would prefer Christian nuptials. Violet's flighty sister, Suzie (ALISON BRIE), ends up sleeping with Tom's best friend, Alex (CHRIS PRATT), and gets pregnant. They get to the altar before Tom and Violet.

Soon after, Violet learns that she has secured a faculty position at the University of Michigan under the tutelage of Professor Winton Childs (RHYS IFANS). Tom graciously quits his job, agrees to postpone their wedding, and moves with her from San Francisco to Ann Arbor. There, Violet thrives and makes friends with the other department researchers Doug, Ming, and Vaneetha (KEVIN HART, RANDALL PARK, and MINDY KALING). Doug can only find work as a sandwich maker in a local deli; makes friends with Bill and Tarquin (CHRIS PARNELL and BRIAN POSEHN), who he doesn't have much in common with; and is generally depressed and resentful by the spring semester.

Winton, meanwhile, falls for Violet and secretly arranges to have her fast-tracked for tenure to keep her around. Each time she and Tom set a wedding date, some complication arises until they finally break up. He moves back to the Bay Area and becomes involved with a younger, wild woman named Audrey (DAKOTA JOHNSON) and she moves in with the professor not knowing if they'll ever find their way back to each other.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
Just because you make a movie titled "The Five-Year Engagement" doesn't mean your flick has to actually feel like it takes five years to tell its story! This new romantic comedy is from producer Judd Apatow and is co-written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller of "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" success and "The Muppets." Stoller directs and Segel stars as one-half of a couple who keep getting tripped up as they prepare to walk down the aisle.

This is the classic case of creative types becoming too successful in their own genre and having no one to tell them "No!" At two hours and four minutes, the film is simply too long and too stuffed with too many needless characters and scenes that should have been saved for the Deleted Scenes section on an eventual DVD or Blu-ray. With some significant trimming and paring down here, this really could have been a good comedy. In its current form, it meanders and seems to run out of gas at least a half-dozen times, especially in its sagging middle.

So much could have been improved here. Whole scenes could have been trimmed, and no one would have missed them. Characters could have been combined, and the end result would have been the same. Actually, the end result would have been better. Case in point, when Segel's character Tom moves from San Francisco to Ann Arbor, Mich., when his fiancée Violet (Emily Blunt) is offered a faculty position, he loses one best buddy (Chris Pratt) and gains two (Chris Parnell and Brian Posehn). The two characters could easily have been combined for a delightfully quirky Midwest caricature.

Similarly, Emily gets a spot on a five-member research team captained by Psychology Department head Winton Childs (Rhys Ifans). All that was really needed was her to be working closely with Childs to manufacture some romantic tension. The three research colleagues are underwritten and needless even though they are played by skilled comedy performers such as Kevin Hart (so much more effective in "Think Like a Man"), Randall Park, and Mindy Kaling.

The good news is that Segel and Blunt have a nice, unforced chemistry together, having previously sparred as romantic interests in "Gulliver's Travels." You believe that these two have a history together. I also liked a lot of the bits with their respective families, especially the fact that their engagement is marked not so much by years or changing of the seasons, but by the deaths of beloved grandparents who were hanging on to see the two married.

The film also balances the usual smutty elements you've come to expect from a product off the Apatow assembly line with the more sentimental moments. The film does get a bit more potty mouthed and sex obsessed as it goes on. But the actors all find a reality in their on-screen personas. So those scenes rarely feel contrived. There's just no economy of words or plotting or pacing here, and that's a shame. Certain scenes play like sketches unto themselves. Other bits feel like they were pulled from unrelated screenplays Segel and Stoller have been working on or thinking of working on and just want to "get in." It's an odd little piece of Hollywood bloat.

As a date movie, you could do worse. As I wrote, the two leads DO have chemistry, and that's the most important thing in these kinds of pictures. And the ending is genuinely warm and even whimsical. But it's quite the labor to get to that ending. There's the old song lyric, "All you need is love." As it turns out, all romantic comedy writers need is a good editor. I give it a 4.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed April 24, 2012 / Posted April 27, 2012


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