Film review: The Five-Year Engagement (15)

WHAT is it like to live with Judd Apatow? I picture it as a world where the Sunday roast chicken has to be pulled apart like something from The Private Life Of Henry VIII, where presents look as if they have been wrapped by washing machines, and people are long-haired and stubbled.

It’s a world without knives, scissors or razors, because if his films are anything to go by, Apatow hates to cut anything. Exhibit One: The Five-Year Engagement, a whopping 124-minute comedy.

The picture begins where most movies end; San Francisco chef Tom (Jason Segel) has nervously proposed to his academic girlfriend Violet (Emily Blunt). She accepts and they seem set for a happy-ever-after. Except when Violet finally lands her dream job, it’s in Michigan, forcing them to uproot from the West Coast so she can join a convivial research team, led by a suavely chummy welsh professor (Rhys Ifans). Meanwhile Tom has to put his dream of owning a restaurant on hold, and winds up making sandwiches in a delicatessen.

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Meanwhile, Tom’s best friend (Chris Pratt) falls into a relationship with Violet’s sister (Alison Brie), gets her pregnant, has a shotgun marriage, but lucks into a blissful family life, including the San Francisco chef job that should have been Tom’s.

Co-written by Segel and Nicholas Stoller, The Five-Year Engagement eschews some of the absurdities of the rom com. There are no elaborate subterfuges, no basic misunderstandings, no women falling over, no sign of Gerard Butler being letchy and boorish. But that may be because this picture isn’t much of a romantic comedy, although there are jokes, including a rather brilliant fight between Blunt and Brie which, because there are children present, has to be conducted in the voices of Elmo and The Cookie Monster.

However, because buoyant comedy and bickering drama are not skilfully integrated here, the lighter moments are spaced out in an already bloated piece of storytelling. So there’s loads of time to wonder if this film would work better if it was set 50 years ago, because in 2012, Tom and Violet are already living together, supporting each other and sleeping with each other. Marriage would change practically none of this.

The real stress on the couple is apparently the business of young careers in a hurry. When Tom has to park his ambitions he loses his identity and his moxie. His new best friend is a house-husband who knits and teaches Tom to hunt deer. Tom’s own slippery slope is smoking venison, growing a Grizzly Adams beard, keeping bees and brewing his own mead.

Has anyone really thought about where this argument is heading? You might assume the premise is offering a bit of post-modern role reversal, but the happiest woman in the picture is the impulsive, dumb-luck sister, and the five years Tom and Violet spend trying to pull their lives together is portrayed as fussy and ultimately pointless. And the empathy given to old Tom because Violet has a career while he is denied the chance to bang pots in an upscale restaurant seems to approve a rather fusty message that men give up careers for womenfolk at their own peril. A five-year engagement? It felt much longer.

The Five-Year Engagement (15)

Director: Nicholas Stoller

Running time: 124 minutes

Rating: ***