DVD Drop: Love, actually
The Five-Year Engagement makes its way to video shelves
Emily Blunt and Jason Segel in The Five-Year Engagement (Universal Pictures)
It really bugs me when a movie like The Five-Year Engagement fails to catch on with audiences. I'm supposed to steer people towards entertainment that's actually worthy of their time and warn them away from the empty calories of cynically assembled studio generica, so when something genuinely good comes out and gets ignored, it can't help but sting.
Thankfully, I get the chance to beat that drum all over again once the good thing comes out on disc, so here's me pitching another campaign for Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller's proper follow-up to Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
Here's the thing, though: The Five-Year Engagement is richer and warmer than their 2008 hit, but not necessarily funnier. But that's okay; the filmmakers' priorities just are a little different this time around.
The premise is right there in the title: Charming, lovey-dovey San Francisco couple Tom (Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt) get engaged with the expectation of a prompt wedding and a comfortable, happy life together, but the nuptials are pushed back when Violet gets an academic job offer that threatens to derail Tom's career as a chef. And then another thing gets in the way. And another.
Happens to everyone, right? Life doesn't proceed according to plans, and we find ourselves rolling in unexpected directions. But lest you think this sounds like a really sucky relationship drama, some of the unexpected events in Tom and Violet's life include Tom's best friend (Chris Pratt) impregnating Violet's sister (Alison Brie) on the night of the happy couple's engagement party, Violet's elderly grandparents dying in rapid succession and Tom getting drunk one night and waking up missing a toe.
Everything's played for comedy -- and very successfully, at that -- but the endless obstacle course of Tom and Violet's relationship is also sweetly, weirdly credible. Where Forgetting Sarah Marshall was intentionally outsized and goofy, The Five-Year Engagement finds Segel and Stoller telling a more relatable story, the better to build up the emotional kick of watching these two kids discover themselves as they try to negotiate their couplehood.
Maybe it helped that Segel and Stoller were also working on The Muppets while they were developing The Five-Year Engagement; they could shift all the wackiness onto that project and save the humanity for this one. That said, it wouldn't be a Segel project without some reference to Jim Henson's beloved characters; the shout-out he works in here is particularly delightful. (And I wouldn't dream of spoiling it.)
To reiterate: The Five-Year Engagement is a very funny movie. Segel and Blunt are a fine match, and the supporting cast is filled with vivid comic talent -- Pratt and Brie, of course, but also Rhys Ifans, Brian Posehn, Mindy Kaling, Kevin Hart, Kumail Nanjiani and Lauren Weedman, in a role someone almost certainly tried to book for Jane Lynch. There's always something going on in the frame; this is a movie where people have been encouraged to create characters rather than types.
The marketing campaign made it look like your average Judd Apatow project about a schlubby guy who falls for a hot girl and encounters wacky complications in their life together -- and sure, that's a fair compression of the plot, if you strip away all the character stuff and emotional complexity. But of course the whole point of The Five-Year Engagement is the character stuff and emotional complexity; it's what turns Tom and Violet into believable human beings instead of stick figures, and what makes us root for them as they try to figure out how to stay together while growing into their adult selves. And it all works beautifully. You'll see.
E-mail Norman Wilner at firstname.lastname@example.org