[Review] - The Five Year Engagement


Courtesy of Universal
They say in Hollywood, you're only as good as your last project. Which is why it made be giggle slightly that Five Year Engagement was being marketed as the from the guys that brought you Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the 2008 comedy that first united Segal and Stoller, rather then the guys that brought you The Muppets. I suppose that might have suggested Five Year Engagement was suitable for a younger audience then it is. Unfortunately, Five Year Engagement isn't as good as either of those two films, more on par with Stoller's Get Him To the Greek, and is a prime example of one of the two ways that the Apatow comedy brand is destroying itself.

Hit the jump for the review, and the ensuing spoilers.

The Apatow brand of humour is the run-on kind. Characterised by almost no camera movement and improvised escalation, such scenes bring the plot to a dead stop in favour of a belaboured, cuss-laden marathon of variations on a similar theme. The film school example would be the "Know How I Know You're Gay" scene from Virgin. They generally have nothing to do with the story, and are meant to represent how people actually interact, especially if they are friends just shooting the shit. Kevin Smith has said that he was doing Apatow-style humour a decade before Virgin, he just always insisted on crossing a line that never made them mass-marketable. But Apatow did, and has built an empire out of producing films that fall into this subgenre of comedy.

Problem is, like everything in the universe, comedy too must follow the laws of thermodynamics, and so, since Knocked Up and Sarah Marshall, each subsequent film has seen diminishing returns from the laughs along two very clear paths. From Apatow's self directed films, he has begun to favour the dramatic side of things, using the humour to punctuate uncomfortable moments. It's not even dark humour, it's just absent. Funny People was the most joyless comedy I've seen in ages. From Apatow's produced films, they are moving in the opposite direction, testing to see what sort of extremes they can take the humour to, under the guise of, but to the detriment of, the human story.

Ostensibly, Five Year Engagement is about the relationship troubles of two people who get engaged early in their courtship, and spend many years really getting to know one another. What it actually is, is a series of isolated sequences that run on dead-horse gags (metaphorically, not actually), broken up by tiny glimpses of real story. Because of the vignette nature of the script, if a joke isn't funny, you can just wait for the next one comes along. But you never feel for the characters. And perhaps that was meant to be the point, as the characters don't really know each other, so the movie is as disjointed as their relationship. I doubt it though. I've always felt that if I leave a movie, and can't remember any of the characters names, that is a sign it wasn't successful in getting me emotionally involved with them.

Worse then that, even the creative team didn't understand the characters. At 124 minutes, this movie is bloated. I've got nothing against long comedies, when they have enough to fill them. And, unlike the usual causes of over-length, this one has a simple fix. Loose the last half hour - every after the mains, played by Jason Segal and Emily Blunt, break up. Because that is the natural conclusion to the film. At no point does it feel like these characters are meant for one another. Their initial lives are too far apart, and the gulf only widens once the film becomes Segal-out-of-water (Blunt's character seems to only experience upward growth). Nothing that happens after the break up feels organic, most of all the eleventh hour reunion and wedding, which felt like a last minute addition demanded by the studio, but I suspect was there all along. This shouldn't be When Harry Met Sally..., it should be the corollary to it. Sometimes, more often then not, things don't work out. I'm surprised, considering how profound, and yet dark that idea is, that Segal didn't jump on it for all comedic potential, deciding on the rather cliched and empty happy ending.

The bright spots in the film, what saves it from being a complete loss, are the secondary characters, the roles that Segal used to fill, and where, frankly, he's much better off. Chris Parnell and Kevin Hart as Segal's only friends are reliably funny, as is Mindy Kaling as Blunt's co-worker, though she gets more grating as the film goes on. The stands out are Parks and Rec's Chris Pratt and Community's Allison Brie, doing a fantastic, dead-on Emily Blunt impression, who immediately bring life and emotion to the screen, and are the film's real relationship. Sadly, they have minimal screen time, once the action purposefully moves away from them. Why structure your story away from the strongest element. Obviously, they weren't written as powerfully as they were performed, and that is a testament to these two actors. Both deserve long, hilarious careers after their respective series end.

At the end, there aren't enough jokes to keep the viewer interested for the running length, and is yet another in an increasing number of films that have better bloopers reels then actual movies.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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