After meeting at a costume party, dressed as a fluffy pink bunny and Princess Di respectively, Tom (Segel) and Violet (Blunt) progress down the road that leads to a memorable engagement in the San Francisco restaurant where chef Tom works. They then do what any couple does and start planning their big day. However, Violet, a trainee psychologist, gets offered a position on the other side of the United States at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. As this is only meant to last a couple of years, the couple postpone the wedding, and a few years grow into more years. As time passes, and Violet relishes her new position, Tom gets more and more frustrated with Ann Arbor life. It threatens their relationship and their plans for the future.
This has Apatow stamped all over it, with grown men still struggling to come to terms with growing up and ‘forced’ to take on adult responsibilities, and the female characters who have to pick up the ball and run with the consequences. While this is also the charm of the producer’s films for avid fans, this film feels yet like another exploration of all that is ‘not fair’ with adult life at a far slower pace, allowing the average male viewer a chance to empathise but not offering much else in terms of originality.
Although it, thankfully, doesn’t rely on lots of set-pieces and mishaps along the way – it doesn’t altogether avoid them either, the time spent does almost feel like real-time (years and years) that by the time a happy resolution is found, you are past caring – even if it makes you chuckle anyway, perhaps with relief?
The initial jarring point is the pairing of Segel with Blunt that feels slightly unbelievable, to be honest. It’s questionable whether there was ever chemistry enough in the characters’ relationship to last the test of time, as their initial meeting seems unconvincingly, even if it’s kind of cutesy. There is a distinct lack of energy in parts: There are snooze-fest moments, which neither excite nor propel the narrative forward as you feel almost like a gooseberry watching as the couple next door muddle over the day’s events. Indeed, the opposites attract theory is tested to the full when Tom goes off-piste in deepest, forested Ann Arbor, setting up for a pointless and unfunny crossbow joke, not to mention portraying the area like a red neck haven of lunacy.
What the writers (including Segel) are also guilty of is devoting more time to some supporting characters – and rather annoying ones, like the token best buddy, Alex (Chris Pratt), who isn’t funny, wise or a significant enough, even though this character is a must in the Apatow plot – to the detriment of others. Winton Childs (well-played by Rhys Ifans), Violet’s amorous boss obviously has a shadier side that could have been tapped into more for twisted comedy value.
One funny scene actually involves Muppets impersonations between Violet and her sister, Suzie (Alison Brie), speaking entirely in ‘Sesame Street’ voices as not to scare the kiddies by the content. But even this drags a little and like other scenes, feels totally constructed, rather than more ‘naturally flowing’ like the rest of the film is aiming for. Indeed, although it feels less like a comedy of slapstick episodes, it does revert to some to inject some fizz.
As endearing as Segel and Blunt are, The Five-Year Engagement feels like just that; five years of your life spent waiting for the inevitable, with not as many laughs along the way to support the ups and downs of the relationship. Like the characters, we wish the actors well with this release, but we don’t think it will last the distance at the box office.