There are worse people to spend two hours with than Jason Segel's Tom and Emily Blunt's Violet, the persistently delayed couple at the center of The Five-Year Engagement. We meet them as Tom is ready to propose, and even when Violet accidentally ruins the surprise they go through with the proposal anyway, all good humor and jokey and believably warm to each other. But eventually Tom and Violet become less like your favorite friends than your favorite college friends who got off on the wrong path at some point, making mistakes and wallowing in them, turning into the kind of quiet depressives you eventually need to distance yourself from for your own sanity.
The Five-Year Engagement, which runs longer than two hours and invites all kinds of bitter jokes about the title, is another collaboration between writer/director Nicholas Stoller and writer/star Jason Segel in which they seem to have written and shot a movie that is four hours long, then awkwardly stuffed it into a still-overlong two-hour frame. For all the funny jokes and well-crafted characters and storylines that both surprise and satisfy, there are scores of comedians crammed into tiny supporting roles, plot turns that seem purely mechanical, and bits of comedy that everyone in the editing room liked too much to let go. Far more shapeless than Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Engagement isn't really telling the story of this relationship, but using it as a frame to set up some jokes and characters that would have worked even better with an actual structure to guide them.
What happens over the course of Tom and Violet's five-year engagement is about as eventful as what happens in anyone's life over five years: they get engaged, then Violet gets offered a grad program at the University of Michigan, then they move together to Ann Arbor, where their relationship suffers after Tom takes crappy job and Violet gets wrapped up in both her program and her suave professor (Rhys Ifans, surprisingly sexy, actually). Among the comedians who play their friends in Ann Arbor are Chris Parnell, Brian Posehn, Mindy Kaling and Kevin Hart, and though each gets in a few good lines or weird visual humor (including Parnell's hideous homemade sweaters), none seem to make the intended impact. The movie ambles along at a nice enough pace until it kind of crash lands in the second act, where Tom gets depressed about Michigan life and takes the audience down with him.
With all the movie's wild tonal shifts and pacing challenges, it's a relief that one part remains consistently great: Chris Pratt and Alison Brie as Tom's best friend and Violet's sister, respectively, who start up a surprising relationship of their own early on and act as a model of the marriage Tom and Violet could have if they just got their shit together. Both standouts on their respective NBC sitcoms Parks & Recreation and Community, Pratt and Brie are the only supporting players given the time to develop real characters, and though some of their scenes can drag as much as the others-- their wedding is probably the draggiest in the film-- you still start wishing the movie was about them instead. From Brie's Elmo voice to Pratt's terrible pretend-acting, each knows what works for them, and they play their hearts out on the sidelines while Blunt and Segel get a little lost in the middle.
That's not to say that both stars don't have their moments, and in the times when their rapport is allowed to play out without getting caught in weird comedic moments or plot contrivances, they once again feel like that appealing couple we met at the beginning of the movie. But for all the bright moments that break out of the muddle, and the zippy ending that almost rescues it, The Five-Year Engagement catches a bad case of the meanders and never quite recovers, leaving us to wonder what Segel and Stoller could do if forced into a tight 90 minute runtime, with only the really, really good stuff spared the cutting room floor.
Reviewed By: Katey Rich