The Five-Year Engagement
2 out of 4 stars
As is generally the case with all romantic comedies, there is about an hour's worth of good material in "The Five-Year Engagement." The problem is the movie is more than twice that long. Like virtually every other film ever produced by Judd Apatow, it takes a wafer-thin premise, bleeds it dry of all its appeal and overstays its welcome.
Unlike drama or all-you-can-eat salad bars, more is not better for comedy. When Shakespeare wrote in "Hamlet" that "brevity is the soul of wit," he laid down the cardinal rule for every storyteller that would follow in his wake. Say and/or do enough to make your point and move on. Walt Disney (or perhaps it was P.T. Barnum) said essentially the same thing with "leave them wanting more." By the time "The Five-Year Engagement" crawls panting and wheezing to the finish line, you'll want nothing more to do with it.
Considering the primo cast assembled by Nicholas Stoller ("Forgetting Sarah Marshall," "Get Him to the Greek") that is charged with delivering the bloated and often repetitive dialogue, it is especially disheartening.
Stoller's co-writer and Apatow regular Jason Segel stars as Tom, a highly regarded San Francisco-based chef who loves his job and his clinical psychologist girlfriend Violet (Emily Blunt, gorgeous as usual). The movie opens on New Year's Eve with Tom planning to surprise Violet on the first year anniversary of their meeting with a marriage proposal. He can barely get the words out before she says yes. In less than five minutes, we are completely charmed by both of them.
In the midst of planning their nuptials, Violet receives word that she's been accepted to a prestigious post-grad school and can't bear to tell Tom they'll have to postpone the wedding and move. Tom doesn't hesitate to go along with the new plan and their relocation to ... Michigan.
No offense intended to anyone out there from or residing in Michigan but to move there after growing up in San Francisco, most people would probably consider that a step down in the quality of living department. Tom definitely thinks so but as a gentleman deeply in love and a team player, he puts on his best face and trudges onward.
The culture shock becomes even more glaring when -- after arriving in the dead of the winter of his discontent -- Tom finds it exceedingly difficult to find a restaurant suitable to his considerable talents and must take a job at a deli slapping together sandwiches. Violet on the other hand is loving life and is on the fast track to become a major star in her field of endeavor. Then there's another snag and another and yet another ...
With the narrative almost literally stuck and spinning its wheels in a snowdrift, the screenwriters resort to an endless series of sight gags that have very little to do with the story. Most of it is slapstick and juvenile which wouldn't be so bad had it been done sparingly, but that would have made too much sense.
Appearing in practically every scene either with others or together, Segel and Blunt get lots of help with the heavy lifting courtesy of nearly a dozen supporting players. David Paymer and especially Mimi Kennedy as Tom's parents are particularly effective with their observations. Chris Pratt as Tom's oafish buddy and Alison Brie as Violet's sister get big laughs every time they show up which, thankfully is often. Violet's quartet of academic colleagues (including the barely recognizable Rhys Ifans) also does more than their fair share. If not for the supporting cast, the movie would have resulted in an unmitigated disaster.
Once fresh (think "Knocked Up" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin"), the hard-R rated romantic comedy concept that Apatow didn't invent but certainly revived to great effect a few years ago, is starting to get really tired. There are in excess of 100 "f-bombs" and its variations dropped throughout the movie with only a handful being needed or improving the humor. The rest of the time, they're included solely for cheap shock value and after a while they fail to even shock.
For couples (women especially) who are already familiar and comfortable with Apatow's brand of excessive locker room profanity, it won't be anything they haven't already been exposed to before, but for the uninitiated, it might be a deal-killer. Consider yourself warned. (Universal)