Thursday, April 26, 2012

A few laughs in this long engagement

Jason Segel and Emily Blunt star in an uneven but sometimes winning romantic comedy.
What happens if she receives the career offer of a lifetime, but he must take a backward to keep the relationship going? That entirely possible post-feminist question gives The Five Year Engagement a nice boost in the romantic comedy department: The movie takes a fairly realistic look at how one man's eager accommodations gradually turn into seething resentment.

Five Year Engagement has something else going for it: Jason Segel and Emily Blunt. They're both playing life-sized characters, and for once, we get to hang out with two people who actually seem to enjoy each other's company.

Segel co-wrote this comedy with Nicholas Stoller, the same partner with whom he wrote Forgetting Sarah Marshall. This time the duo -- Stoller also directed -- creates a movie that has an easy-going appreciation of oddball touches, but which also is burdened by its two-hour length, some dry spells and a fair amount of repetition.

The story begins in earnest when Segel's Tom gives up a premier sous chef's job in San Francisco to follow his fiancee to a research assistant's post at the University of Michigan.

In Michigan, Segel's Tom is forced to take a job for which he's obviously over-qualified, making sandwiches at Zingerman's Deli, evidently a fabled Ann Arbor institution.

Tom tries to make the best of things, even going native at point. He takes up hunting and grows an unruly set of Michigan-style mutton chops as if to prove to himself that he not only likes Michigan but fits into a stereotypical mid=American lifestyle.

The story's central problem -- Tom's increasing unhappiness -- can make it seem as if the screenplay is spinning its wheels in much the same way as Tom does, being pleasant and stuck at the same time. And at times, Five Year Engagement feels like a rough draft in which the authors couldn't bear to part with anything.

Tom's on a downward career spiral just as Blunt's Violet is beginning to find real career fulfillment under the tutelage of a psychology professor played by Rhys Ifans.

The love affair between Violet and Tom contrasts with another relationship. Violet's sister (Alison Brie) marries one of Tom's former kitchen colleagues (Chris Pratt). Pratt has the movie's grossest moments and also its funniest moment, which involves a Spanish love song.

Because the good parts of Five Year Engagement are very good, you long for what might have been had Stoller and Segel applied a bit more discipline to their task.

Violet's fellow grad students (Randall Park, Mindy Kaling and Kevin Hart) are supposed to provide on-going comic relief, but don't always rise to the occasion. (When it comes to satirizing the academic community, the movie's a bit of a dud.) Chris Parnell, as a fellow faculty spouse and one of Tom's few friends, earns some laughs, as does Brian Posehn, as a shaggy pickle aficionado and one of Tom's co-workers at Zingerman's.

Despite a plethora of quirky touches, Five Year Engagement doesn't always feel daringly original. When Violet almost strays from her loyalty to Tom, the script turns schematic. It tries to balance things by putting Tom in a compromising position. And Stoller's more exaggerated attempts at humor (a semi-serious joke involving a crossbow) represent bad notes sounded loudly.

After two movies together, Segel and Stoller have shown real potential, a promise that badly needs to be fully realized. Maybe the third time -- if there is one -- will be the absolute charm.

No comments: