The post-proposal blues strike a crushingly bland couple in The Five-Year Engagement, a romantic comedy lacking in both of the genre's signature elements. Reteaming after Forgetting Sarah Marshall, star Jason Segel and director Nicholas Stoller (who jointly wrote the screenplay) deliver a relationship saga of minimal momentum and purpose with their tale of Tom (Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt), who one year after their meet-cute at a New Year's Eve costume party opt to get hitched. That decision is immediately frustrated by the sudden shotgun wedding of Tom's boorish best friend Alex (Parks and Recreation's Chris Pratt) to Violet's sister Suzie (Mad Men's Alison Brie), a union that steals the thunder from Tom and Violet's impending nuptials. More crucially, however, their wedding plans are complicated by Violet's acceptance into the University of Michigan's post-grad psychology department, a development that necessitates moving from San Francisco to Ann Arbor, and requires aspiring chef Tom to give up an opportunity to run his own restaurant. The problems that arise from this relocation are of a thoroughly standard variety, though it's the sheer lack of investment one feels for the couple that truly sabotages the film. Still, despite its torpor, Stoller and Segel's latest collaboration should—courtesy of likable stars and the familiar naughty-and-nice template of producer Judd Apatow—prove modestly appealing at the box office.
Suddenly ensconced in frigid Michigan, Violet thrives under the tutelage of professor Winton (Rhys Ifans) while Tom struggles to find his niche, eventually opting to be a sandwich maker at Zingerman's alongside nominal, profane-sidekick Tarquin (an amusing Brian Posehn). Postponing the wedding in order to get comfortable in their new environs—delays which result in a groan-worthy recurring gag about the successive deaths of Violet's various grandparents—Tom and Violet slowly grow apart, with Tom coming to resent Violet's careerism and Violet gravitating toward the waiting arms of stock "Other Man" Winton. These obstacles are clichéd, but it's the lack of characterization that fundamentally plagues The Five-Year Engagement. Tom and Violet are defined by their professions and their hang-ups with each other and their circumstances, but not by anything approaching a living, breathing opinion, attitude or personality trait, and thus their chemistry is consistently limp and unbelievable. That goes double for their faux-witty banter, which has a strained quality that extends to the myriad one-liners dropped by their co-stars (including Mindy Kaling, Chris Parnell and Kevin Hart), who are primarily stranded in bits (like one about a psych experiment featuring blood, chicken feathers and a gun) that try far too hard, and succeed far too little, at being outrageous.
Much of the blame for the overriding inertia falls at the feet of Stoller, whose compositions are of such a lifeless, cookie-cutter nature—there isn't a single camera set-up or movement that's remotely memorable—that the action feels hopelessly flat even during its wannabe-signature moments (like a crossbow accident involving a child) or when its stars manage to generate a momentary spark of excitement. That's not very frequent, however, since Tom and Violet routinely react to events in an implausible manner, never more so than Violet's agreeable acceptance of Tom temporarily devolving into a mutton-chopped hunting lunatic. Similar to Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn's The Break-Up, The Five-Year Engagement both embraces a traditional romantic comedy formula and yet strives to be a more mature exploration of the difficulties that can thwart potential true love. Given the RomCom genre's general creative stasis, it's a worthy objective, but Stoller and Segel provide so little reason to care about the fate of their protagonists that the film's energy shrivels up faster than Tom's nether regions in the snowy cold.
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Cast: Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Chris Pratt
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Writer: Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller
Producers: Judd Apatow, Rodney Rothman, Nicholas Stoller
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Rating: R for sexual content, and language throughout
Running time: 124 min.
Release date: April 27, 2012