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Review: 'The Five-Year Engagement': Stumbles at start, finishes strong

 

“The Five-Year Engagement” is like fire and ice. The Jason Segel-Emily Blunt romcom has a cold, standoffish first act but ultimately warms up, becoming a genuinely sweet romantic comedy.

Clocking in at almost two hours, “Engagement” feels likes it takes five years for it to find its legs but once it does it jogs along with the best of its genre pals. The first half of the film stumbles by to the sound of crickets as jokes egregiously work overtime and sadly nosedive. Some seriously awkward comedic timing from the cast is also partly to blame, yet somewhere at the halfway point, the film finds its balance, the script’s heart expands, the humor finds its niche and the laughs start to flow naturally.

Jason Segel’s first script since last year’s “The Muppets” has the daunting task of finding originality in an exhausted genre, but he successfully tackles a fresh and slightly more mature topic. Segel and co-writer/director Nicholas Stoller explore what happens when couples increasingly make relationship sacrifices that take them further away from their own personal dreams. 

Segel plays successful San Francisco chef Tom, who uproots and moves to snowy Michigan with his fiancé Violet, who has accepted a post-doctorate position at the University of Michigan. While Violet is on the fast track to success in academia, Tom is relegated to working at a local burger joint. We chart the course of the couple as they indefinitely postpone their wedding and emotionally lose sight of each other.

The film is grounded by the robust chemistry between Blunt and Segel. Tom and Violet provide more realistic ‘pillow talk’ than many other romantic comedies.  The more intimate scenes between the two are tender and enticing. Segel and Blunt’s strong dynamic makes it hard to not get swept up in their problems. Segel and Blunt prove that comedy with genuine sensitivity is much more rewarding than just immature dirty jokes.

A circus train of comedic actors join Segel and Blunt. “Community” and “Mad Men’s” Alison Brie is delightful as Blunt’s emotionally hysterical sister. Rhys Ifans (“Anonymous”) is cast just right as Violet’s home-wrecking mentor. They are followed by Chris Pratt, Mindy Kaling, Brian Posehn.

Unfortunately the supporting cast are often the victims of the distractingly lame jokes. They are decent characters just given some bad choices. Once the peripheral characters are out of our vision and the focus is on the main couple, the film picks up.

Here Segel excels more with drama than comedy. The film runs hot and cold but thankfully for the Segel-Blunt connection, “The Five-Year Engagement” has more good than bad.
 

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