Despite workable ideas and winning performances, “The Five-Year Engagement” — about a wedding that can’t quite seem to happen — doesn’t work.
The sophomore collaboration between writer-director Nicholas Stoller, actor-writer Jason Segel and cuteness-and-crudeness producer Judd Apatow is too long, and not funny enough.
Like their previous outing, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” it involves a regular guy who loses his equilibrium when he feels that the woman he loves has bested him. It’s less raunchy, but hardly highbrow. (We get severed digits, horrible facial hair and Segel sans pants.)
Tom (Segel), a rising-star sous chef in San Francisco, meets Violet (Emily Blunt), a graduate psychology student, at a party, and a year later, they’re engaged.
The wedding plans stall when Violet’s pregnant sister, Suzie (Alison Brie), marries fiance Alex (Chris Pratt), Tom’s buffoonish colleague, pronto. Then, Violet gets accepted into a postdoctoral program at the University of Michigan. Tom, supporting her aspirations, quits his job and accompanies her.
She adapts; he doesn’t.
Unable to find satisfying culinary work, Tom ends up making sandwiches at Zingeman’s Deli. Meanwhile, back in San Francisco, less-qualified Alex is running the Clam Bar kitchen — the job Tom was offered.
Depressed, Tom becomes friends with fellow “faculty spouse” Bill (Chris Parnell), a frustrated househusband who equates manliness with hunting. Soon, Tom is shooting deer and looking like a mountain man. Violet is soaring.
When Violet’s professor (Rhys Ifans) extends Violet’s gig from two years to five, Tom explodes. Will the relationship, let alone the wedding plans, survive?
The filmmakers deliver viable themes, including the resentment that men like Tom can harbor beneath agreeable facades when they are underachieving while their partner thrives. Cute bites of dialogue capture truths about relationships.
The problem is that the movie lets its wedding gimmick, its rom-com formula and raunchy bits prevail and, at 124 minutes, feels like a five-decade engagement. The hit-and-miss gags come at the expense of material relating to the depth of the characters’ commitment. From what we see, it is hard to believe that these two people will be happy as the plot pushes them toward the altar.
More brightly, Segel and Blunt are fine together. Segel is impressive in his willingness to take Tom into dark terrain. Blunt is charming, despite the underdevelopment of her role.
As for the film’s portrait of our fair city, it’s picture-postcard stuff, though some enjoyable fun is had with our foodie culture.
The Five-Year Engagement
Starring Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie
Written by Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller
Directed by Nicholas Stoller
Rated R Running time 2 hours 4 minutes