Monday, May 7, 2012

Too Long a Wait

Last weekend, the much-awaited (by yours truly, at least) comedy The Five-Year Engagement was released to theaters. With only one week before the rise of eventual juggernaut The Avengers, the film's producers obviously thought they could make a quick cash grab with a strong romantic comedy and make out like thieves before the Marvel Comics' movie could simply take everybody's money. On paper, everything looked more than solid. Judd Apatow was producing, and Apatow's career seemed to be going upwards after he bankrolled a little film last summer called Bridesmaids. The film also reunited director Nicholas Stoller and star Jason Segel, whose former collaborations were the popular and successful Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The Muppets. Add rising star Emily Blunt to the mix, and what you should have is a hilarious romantic comedy that excels on all levels.

Well, let that be a lesson as to just how unpredictable this industry really is.

Audiences largely ignored The Five-Year Engagement, and in hindsight it's easy to see why. Its attempts to cling to the Bridesmaids's coattails were obvious ploys, as nothing in the trailer indicated that there was anything connecting Engagement to the 2011 box office giant whose popularity alone caused it to flirt with Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards. Secondly, there was already plenty of romance in theaters when the film released, especially two titles released the previous weekend (the Nicholas Sparks adaptation The Lucky One and surprise hit Think Like a Man both dominated Engagement at the box office in their second weekend), and nobody really cared that a new romance film was available to see. What at first glance seemed like a slam dunk became anything but, and to add insult to injury, critics seemed to agree with our collective apathy. Were they right? Is The Five-Year Engagement deserving of its failures? I was still too intrigued by the title's premise to completely ignore it.

Look at the happy couple. What can we do to change that?
The film starts with lovebirds Tom Solomon (Segel) and Violet Barnes (Blunt) in San Francisco on New Years Eve, the night Tom proposes, and Violet of course says yes. While the pair are planning their upcoming nuptials, Violet, a psychology PHD graduate, gets a job offer for a post-doctorate program. The problem is that she did not get into a California program, but one at the University of Michigan, which puts the couple's plans on hold since they want to marry in California with their families present. Because the program lasts two years, Tom moves up with Violet, leaving his sous chef position at a popular restaurant and confident that he can "cook anywhere". Things get complicated in Michigan however, and as Violet's career surges forward, Tom is left behind, and the prospective wedding date gets further and further away. Soon it becomes a question of if, not when, the pair will ever tie the knot.

Tom just realized he's not wearing any pants. Violet just realized the same.
If there's one thing The Five-Year Engagement does well, it's that it establishes right from the beginning that these two people are absolutely perfect for one another. From the start, this is a couple that remember the moment they met one another, make each other laugh, and genuinely love one another in a way that communicates to every character in the film and every member of the audience that these two are meant to be together. It was a good call then to bring together Segel and Blunt, as the two share a chemistry that by itself nearly carries the whole movie. Segel is of course in his usual teddy-bear adorable mode, the one that makes women love him and men wish they were him. Segel defies the romantic lead stereotype in such a refreshing everyman way that it almost seems as though he can do no wrong. Blunt is also a hit, and her demeanor is more relaxed (and less "British") than I've seen in any of her other work. The pair obviously work hard to make this film a hit, but sadly it's due to forces outside their control as actors that hamper the title's effectiveness.

What they never say about weddings: all that free cake!
As you can probably guess, it's the story that is the main culprit in Engagement, and the blame for that falls squarely on the heads of Segel and Stoller. Yes, I did say that Segel was blameless, but only in an acting capacity. Unlike The Muppets, which the duo previously penned, this script has none of the wry wit and bursting humor that made Kermit and crew's return such a fun time. It would be easy to blame this on simply not having a female perspective, but it's plainly obvious that these men cannot describe exactly what it is that makes relationships work. As a movie, Engagement lacks subtlety, and the film's funniest moments are when the scenes are almost trying too hard to stand out. Too often does the movie rely on the comedic talents of its actors to make something much funnier than it actually is, and the result is a mishmash of drama and occasional spurts of laughter that doesn't quite pay off.

The couple we wish the movie had been about.
The film is not without its charms, but most belonging to Tom and Violet burns out quickly. Eventually a shitty situation turns the happy couple against one another, and as the audience we just wish that we could stop focusing on this pair until they can get their act together. Best friends to the rescue! Community's Alison Brie and Parks and Recreations' Chris Pratt are easily the best parts of the film as Violet's sister and Tom's best buddy, respectively. Besides being the funniest actors in this comedy (no, I agree that's not saying much), Brie and Pratt act as a calendar of the world outside our main pairing, and their development as characters is the one thing that works amid a sea of poor film pacing. Also standing out is Animal Kingdom's Jacki Weaver as Violet's wickedly fun mother, who says what's on her mind and to hell with the consequences. I really wish Weaver had been used more, but her effectiveness is sadly restricted to the film's opening half-hour. The cast is rounded out by Rhys Ifans, Mindy Kaling, and Kevin Hart, and if the talent here doesn't prove to you just how poorly the script fails the movie, nothing will.

Don't worry, big guy... you know you're getting the happy ending.
What we are left with at the end is a barely funny, overly-long (at two hours, I shouldn't believe that) movie that wraps itself up way too quickly to be believable. While the film does have a few funny bits, I'm hard-pressed to remember any single one. It DOES however contain one of the more memorable wedding scenes in cinema in recent memory. The Bridesmaids comparisons may ultimately have been what killed this film, as it was probably impossible for most people to imagine this title one-upping that modern classic. It's a shame, as with a few changes behind the scenes The Five-Year Engagement could easily have been a funny, competent and engaging romantic comedy. Instead it's barely humorous, and there can be no doubt that it deserved all those empty seats opening weekend. This might seem like small fries after I watched The Avengers twice in the past three days, but Engagement was one of more looked-towards titles this past spring, and I can't help but feel a moderate level of disappointment in its failure.

1 comment:

julesrules3114 said...

Blunt looks almost exactly like Katy Perry, in the last picture & second one!

What's interesting is that Segal was forced to drop a substantial amount of his "schlubbiness" (baby fat, weight, etc.) to be believable in the role of someone marrying a looker like Blunt.

He looks good!