For Reel


The Five-Year Engagement (2012)
June 3, 2012, 7:08 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Nicholas Stoller

Like 2010’s Going the Distance, The Five-Year Engagement probes into the strain that professional ambition places on a relationship. Jason Segel, again co-writing with frequent collaborator and director Nicholas Stoller, plays a rising sous chef in San Francisco who is forced to give up his position in the kitchen when his fiancée, played by Emily Blunt, is offered a postdoc fellowship in the midwest. Most of what follows goes down amiably, holding few surprises but packing plenty of charm. Where Stoller falters – outside of the overblown length (what is it with the two hour plus run times that plague the Apatow universe?) – is in indulging in broad, farcical humor alongside the otherwise realistic degradation of the couple. In a particularly misguided sequence, Segel takes his new hobby for hunting too far. Not only does he grow out a mountain man’s beard, but he finds absurd uses for deer hide around the dinner table. The best screwball comedies of old often tested the limits of plausibility, but those films existed in a universe that was distinctly Hollywood – carefree, filled with glitz and glamor. The very casting of Segel – a go-to schlubby nice guy – grounds the world in a sense of realism that the script is often at odds with. When, in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Segel performs a puppet musical about Dracula, the audience is not meant to feel sorry for or pity him, but rather admire his oddball creativity. Here, the joke of mountain man Segel turns him purely into a punchline, so externalizing his feelings of complacency that it reduces the character’s struggle purely to farce. Nonetheless, if the comedic elements are not entirely successful, much of the drama is. There’s a vitriolic argument that occurs in bed that harbors both great authenticity and even a few sly laughs. One can only hope that Stoller will soon learn how to tell his stories more economically and with better tonal consistency, as his promise does provide some resistance against the dearth of quality found in contemporary romantic comedies.

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