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Jason Segel and Emily Blunt are Easy to Love in “The Five-Year Engagement”

April 30, 2012

By John C.

What do you get when you put Jason Segel with Emily Blunt together?  You get The Five-Year Engagement, an immensely likeable romantic comedy that doesn’t mind shaking up the genre with raunchy humour and scenes of touching drama.  Even though the film failed to light up the box office over the weekend, I liked this one a lot.

This is also the latest success story for both actors.  Jason Segel recently starred in two great movies with The Muppets and Jeff, Who Lives at Home, and Emily Blunt is just coming off of the charming Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and the upcoming release of the festival favourite, Your Sister’s Sister.

When Tom (Jason Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt) first met at a costume party on New Year’s Eve, he was dressed as Super Bunny and she came as Princess Diana.  From this charming scene, we just know that these two are meant to be together.  After a year, he proposes to her, but life and death keeps getting in the way of them settling down.  Tom’s friend Alex (Chris Pratt) hooks up with Violet’s sister Suzie (Alison Brie), overshadowing the life of the leading couple.  Then Violet gets a job in the psychology department at the University of Michigan under the guidance of professor Winton Childs (Rhys Ifans), and Tom becomes so frustrated with the move that he takes up hunting and adopts a backwoods lifestyle.

Produced by Judd Apatow, The Five-Year Engagement was co-written by Jason Segel and directed by Ncholas Stoller, the same team behind the hilarious Forgetting Sarah Marshall a few years back.  The screenplay is honest and sharply funny, with Jason Segel and Emily Blunt bringing life and a lot of chemistry to the likeable main characters.  A scene between them when they fight in bed is the perfect example of the film’s expertly shifted tone between comedy and drama.  Chris Pratt and Alison Brie lead the strong supporting cast, stealing scenes as the unlikely couple that keeps inadvertently taking the spotlight away from Tom and Violet.

Many critics have claimed that the film’s 124 minute running time needs editing, but for me the relaxed pace allows for constant character development and keeps the story feeling real.  Awkward conversations that force the characters to confront their true emotions, impromptu karaoke performances as well as embarrassing speeches made at the engagement party all add to the feeling that we are watching the ups and downs of real people.  The way that we keep flashing back to the night when Tom and Violet first met, is the perfect example of a sequence that manages to start out being hilarious and ends up quite touching by the final few scenes.

Violet does an experiment with stale doughnuts, charting the differences between the type of people who eat the day old baked goods and those who wait for a fresh box, believing that the ones who hold out are more emotionally secure.  Tom doesn’t see the point in constantly waiting for something that could potentially be better to come along, especially when what you have still tastes good.  This becomes a powerful allegory to the story.  Far too many romantic comedies use feelings as plot points and make it look like the characters just need to make it down the aisle before living happily ever after.  I’m not saying there isn’t a suitably romantic happy ending to The Five-Year Engagement, but the road getting there ends up some darkly believable places.

Even as we reach the undeniably touching final few scenes, the film thankfully keeps itself from falling into the trap of easy sentimentality.  The comedy is hilarious but comes from an honest place, and the drama doesn’t try to make it look like there are just going to be easy answers for the characters.  Above all else, The Five-Year Engagement feels real and Jason Segel and Emily Blunt are two of the most likeable people that you could spend a couple of hours with.

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