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Review: The Five Year Engagement (2012)

The Five Year Engagement (2012)

Directed by: Nicholas Stoller

Premise: A couple (Emily Blunt and Jason Segel) continuously plans and delays their wedding in the wake of unexpected events. 

What Works: The Five Year Engagement is not intended to be a riotous comedy like Bridesmaids and it should not be judged that way. This film is much more evenly mixed between comedy and drama and tonally it is far closer to Knocked Up or 50/50 than the many sex comedies that Hollywood has released recently. That said, when The Five Year Engagement goes for humor it generally succeeds. The film is helped by a cast of capable and likable actors in the main roles. Emily Blunt and Jason Segel play the couple and while Segel’s performance is consistent with his work in other pictures it is Blunt who really impresses. The actress is often relegated to supporting roles in pictures like The Devil Wears Prada and The Adjustment Bureau but The Five Year Engagement puts her in the lead and Blunt gives a terrific performance, finally getting a chance to show her comic skills. The Five Year Engagement also has some very effective editing. At several key points the picture flashes back to the couple’s first meeting and it is done in an impressive way that grafts the past onto the present, cinematically creating the experience of memory. These flashbacks are used just enough to be effective without getting obnoxious.

What Doesn’t: The Five Year Engagement is plagued by the impression that the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Actors Segel and Blunt do a fine job individually but as a couple they lack a romantic spark. This similar mismatch exists between supporting performers Chris Pratt and Alison Brie, who play friends of the lead couple. It is simply hard to believe that these people would actually be together in the first place and that flaw pesters the viewer for the duration of the film, making it more difficult to care when the couple’s relationship goes on the rocks. The Five Year Engagement struggles in a similar way with its mix of comedy and drama. Scenes work individually but when they are strung together over the course of the film the picture shifts radically in tone. The humor does not grow out of the dramatic situations and seems tacked on. The awkward transitions between scenes gives the impression that the filmmakers were unsure just what kind of film they were trying to make and so The Five Year Engagement ends up a sloppy mush. That lack of direction results in a film that is longwinded and baggy. The film has a lot of unnecessary exposition in the opening and multiple false endings, and in between are a lot of unnecessary scenes that have little payoff for the plot or the characters. This is not effective storytelling. The film is hurt further by its lack of substance. The filmmakers of do not recognize what is so obvious: The Five Year Engagement is a breakup movie. The screenwriters fight the momentum of their own story and try to force it into a prefigured romantic comedy mould. As a result The Five Year Engagement comes across as a compromised version of The Break Up or (500) Days of Summer.  It never really gets down to any meaningful insight about what marriage means and it falls back on traditional assumptions about relationships and customs. That disarms the movie and makes it passé when it should be edgy.

Bottom Line: The Five Year Engagement is disappointing because it squanders some very good performers and interesting filmmaking on an aimless script. The filmmakers grasp for romantic comedy clichés while everything about the production strives to transcend those clichés. 

Episode: #387 (May 6, 2012)