Movie Review: The Five Year Engagement

Mike Finkelstein is madly in love with his fiance. But then, she got offered a job across the country, and now the two are trying to figure out how to make things work. For some advice, Mike went to the movies. That probably wasn't the smartest idea. Here is his review of The Five Year Engagement

Mike Finkelstein is madly in love with his fiancée.  But suddenly, she got offered a job across the country, and now the two are trying to figure out how to make things work.  For some advice, Mike went to the movies.  That probably wasn’t the smartest idea…Here is his review of “The Five Year Engagement”.

PLOT: Tom (Jason Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt) are a newly engaged couple living in San Francisco.  When Violet gets accepted to a post-doctorate in psychology program at the University of Michigan, Tom decides to leave everything, including a new head chef job, behind to move across country with her for two years.  As time keeps ticking away and more obstacles keep getting piled on, will their ever extended engagement last to see a wedding day?

Check out the trailer:

MIKE’S REVIEW: Judd Apatow and Co have a gift for making comedies out of obscure concepts.  It’s a trademark that, when mixed with some ridiculous improv, has spawned some of the best comedies of the past decade.  But there comes a time when all the craziness and eccentric behavior can become overwhelming and even downright distracting. Case in point: THE FIVE YEAR ENGAGEMENT – a movie with a funny, heartwarming romance at its core that never gets a chance to really take off, all due to the overpowering eccentricities piled on.

THE FIVE YEAR ENGAGEMENT follows Tom (Jason Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt), a San Francisco couple who just got engaged (congrats!).  But when Violet gets accepted to a post-doctorate program at the University of Michigan, the two decide to postpone the wedding and move out there so Violet can focus on her career.  While Violet’s career soon takes off, Tom falls victim to a lax lifestyle, boredom, and depression.  Hilarity ensues.

Before anything, I will say there are a few great things about THE FIVE YEAR ENGAGEMENT.  The story is promising, and whenever Segel and Blunt share the screen together, I couldn’t help but smile.  (Kudos to Blunt for fitting so perfectly into the Apatow universe, and to Segel for creating one of the cutest nervous-boyfriend-about-to-propose ever.)  The two have a natural chemistry, and it’s absolutely adorable to watch them play and banter back and forth about things like getting “super laid” and being an old man.  Besides the two gorgeous leads, Rhys Ifans shows up as Violet’s suave, aggressive boss, and runs away with every scene he is in (literally at one point), and be prepared for a battle between Cookie Monster and Elmo that will be quoted for a long, long time.

But then, it all goes off track from there.  The second Tom and Violet get to Michigan, they are surrounded by peculiar characters, including a husband obsessed with knitting, a pickle connoisseur, students obsessed with masturbating and murder experiments, and one girl who looks and acts a lot like Kelly Kapoor. (Oh wait, it was her…)  With such a charming couple at the base and some real organic laughs throughout, I was getting more annoyed than amused every time I had to listen to the obvious improvisations among these “friends” that just went on too damn long.  The same goes for the group back home in San Francisco, including Violet’s weepy sister (Alison Brie) and Tom’s best friend, Alex (Chris Pratt), who are just too ridiculous for their own good.

Now, I understand all these supporting characters are supposed to be funny and memorable with how over the top they are, but it just doesn’t work this time.  Yes, it is the norm nowadays to let actors go off and just let the camera roll, but it was all so ridiculous that none of it was ringing true!  Maybe it was because I’m growing tired of the practice overall, but either way, I just wanted everyone to shut up so I could get back to the main focus at hand: Tom and Violet (a backhanded compliment about a movie if there ever was one).

While the improv did create most of the film’s problems, the writing caused another.  Within two years of moving to Michigan, Tom went from an up-and-coming chef to a venison-obsessed, handle-bar mustache wearing shell of himself.  In short, he turned into a character instead of a real person.  My favorite moment of Tom’s is when he slips and goes flying to the pavement while trying to clean ice off his windshield.  Something as simple as that is all you need.  When you go from there to the extremes of drinking honey and having three deer hanging in your garage (not to mention doing some of the dumbest things any human being could do, drunk or not), I feel every ounce of my being calling bull.

At its core, THE FIVE YEAR ENGAGEMENT has a promising storyline with two charming leads that we want to stay together.  Sadly, though, that beautiful core is let down, buried under mounds of excessive improvisation and exaggeration.  I know in my gut that this movie could have been one to remember.  (Hell, maybe it could have happened with only a few extra snips in the editing room!)  But as of now, Tom and Violet are the only real stand out factors that will stick in audiences’ heads.

And they deserve better…

GRADE: B

Mike’s LIKES:

1) JASON SEGEL AND EMILY BLUNT: These two make the cutest couple on screen I’ve seen in a while.  Perfectly natural and playful together, all we want is things to work out.

2) RHYS IFANS: A friend and I were talking about the range of characters Ifans has played in his career, from the likes of Spike in NOTTING HILL to the mature, seductive professor here.  He is one supporting actor that I feel can do no wrong, something he proves by being one of the best parts of this film.

3) PROPOSALS: Absolutely adorable on all sides.  Trust me, you’ll want your proposals to be like this!

4) COOKIE MONSTER VS ELMO: I don’t think I’ve ever heard these two say such horrible things.  Just goes to show you that every conversation is better when it comes out of Elmo and Cookie’s mouths.

Mike’s DISLIKES:

1) ECCENTRIC SUPPORTING CAST: With strange quirks and unforgiving, pushy improv (see #2), not one of the supporting characters around Tom and Violet seemed anywhere near real.

2) IMPROV: It is the norm in comedy these days (especially in Judd Apatow movies) to let the camera roll and let the actors improv.  Here, however, it just doesn’t help.  It doesn’t move the story along, it gets boring, and I was usually just waiting to get back to Tom and Violet.

3) TOM’S EXTREMES: To go from a nice, head-chef-in-waiting to a fat, hairy lumberjack and back again just didn’t sit right with me.  Mix that with a naked snow run, some stale donuts and a crossbow, and all I can think is “really?”

4) THE FIVE YEAR STIGMA: Something tells me if the specific stipulation of five years was scratched and the same story was told under different conditions (maybe a few months time with anger growing between the two, and minus so much venison…), we would have been able to get to the heart of the story better.

EXTRA FACTS:

1) In order to work on her character’s British accent, Alison Brie listened to recordings of readings provided by co-star Emily Blunt.

2) Emily Blunt also appeared in THE MUPPETS, which Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller both wrote.

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