Review by Pamela Zoslov
THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT has a more mature story, focusing less on buddy hijinks and more on the realistic challenges within a good relationship, between Tom and Violet (English actress Emily Blunt). Directed by Nicholas Stoller (GET HIM TO THE GREEK) and written by Stoller and Segel, the film also edges into more melancholic territory. The portrait of a couple whose wedding is postponed repeatedly because of career demands marks the passage of time with death. It could be called Four Funerals and a Wedding.
The screenplay is very uneven, with a lot of comic incidents and characters that don't work, and some that do. Where it does succeed is in portraying a genuinely compatible, affectionate couple and what happens when they try to accommodate each other's needs.
The movie opens with Tom's comically clumsy romantic proposal atop the San Francisco restaurant where he is a sous chef, and the couple's excited wedding preparations, which get sidetracked by an unexpected pregnancy (not Violet's) and Violet's acceptance into a postdoctoral program at the University of Michigan.
Though he is a rising culinary star, Tom puts his ambitions aside to join Violet in Ann Arbor, whose snowy streets underscore the bleakness of his future. Tom can't find a suitable chef job and ends up making sandwiches at a deli alongside a big, strange guy named Tarquin (Brian Posehn, a specialist in such characters). Violet joins a cast of other students led by social psychology professor Winton Chiles (Rhys Ifans), conducting experiments that involve trying to divine things about people based on whether they choose to eat some stale donuts. (Folks, this is why I gave up studying psychology.)
Becoming a psychologist, we are told, is Violet's lifelong dream – on the wall of her childhood bedroom, alongside her old Wham! posters, hangs a framed photograph of Sigmund Freud. Tom, gentle and patient, wants to support her in her ambitions. But while her career takes off, he is adrift in the Midwest. He starts crossbow hunting and adopts the aforementioned Grizzly Adams look (does the movie have Michigan confused with Montana?). Tom and Violet contend with Tom's growing depression and their families' constant pressure to reschedule their wedding before there's another death in the family. Before things are resolved, the movie takes many side roads, many of them leading nowhere. There is also some wildly improbable physical mayhem – a ghastly crossbow injury, a food-smeared sex tryst, a morbid frostbite incident. You keep wanting to tell the filmmakers: “You don't need to do this.”
The movie's scattershot approach yields hits and misses, as well as some genuinely surreal moments (Violet and her sister having a conversation in the voices of Elmo and Cookie Monster). Where the movie succeeds is in its winning lead cast. Segel is an increasingly endearing leading man, the more so for not being very handsome, and Blunt is an elegant, sincere actress equally adroit with drama and comedy. They make a likable and believable couple whose relationship you want to root for. 3 and a half out of 4 stars.