The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Five-Year Engagement

There are romantic comedies -- good and bad -- and relationship dramas. While they may deal with similar subjects, the approach to them is basically just the opposite. Laughs as opposed to some sort of real drama, right? So while I liked parts of 2012's The Five-Year Engagement, I have trouble reviewing. It tries to be both, but handicaps itself in the process.

Having been dating for a year now, Tom (Jason Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt) are deeply in love. Nearing their year anniversary, Tom proposes to Violet, and she accepts, setting off  a whirlwind series of events all geared toward their wedding (obviously, duh? I'm struggling here). Soon after the proposal though, different detours start getting thrown at the soon-to-be married couple. Violet's sister gets pregnant with Tom's best friend's baby -- they get married -- and Violet is offered a position in the psych department at the University of Michigan. Tom, leaving his job, and Violet decide to put their wedding on hold for now, pulling up their roots and moving. But upon moving, one detour becomes another and that wedding seems a long way off all of the sudden.

This is a funny movie. It is. When I laughed, I laughed a lot. This is also a movie that tries to be realistic and dramatic and somewhat true to life. So which is it? 'Engagement' can't decide. It tries to be both and fails in both measures. Director Nicholas Stoller -- co-writing with Segel -- can't make up his mind. There are some really odd, out of place attempts at physical humor (a car door opens and smashes Violet in the face, Violet gets shot in the leg with a crossbow, Tom lands on a snow-covered fire hydrant, Tom loses a toe to frostbite) that just don't mesh with the rest of the story. We see these attempts at laughs work in some cases and fall epically short in others, and then we do a 180 into the drama as the couple tries to work through their problems. A movie that picked one route would have been better.

My biggest reason for giving this flick a shot was the Segel and Blunt casting. As actors on-screen, I've liked both of them in just about anything I've seen them in. For the most part, they have a believable, at times lovable on-screen chemistry. Tom is a successful chef at a San Francisco restaurant while Violet is seeking her doctorate, Tom deciding he's willing to sacrifice his job to see that Violet can pursue her dreams. That not surprisingly produces some fireworks as Tom begins to hate their new arrangement while Violet doesn't know what to say to fix things. What starts off as a loving relationship quickly deteriorates, and 'Engagement' is driven to the point where neither character is particularly likable. The success no doubt depends on how much you are or aren't rooting for this couple, but by the end, it just gets tedious.

A saving grace from the tedium is the very funny supporting cast. Our engaged couple meets a whole lot of people over the course of 5 years, some of them very funny. Look for Chris Pratt as Alex, Tom's best friend, and Alison Brie as Suzie, Violet's sister who ends up with Alex.  Pratt especially is a scene-stealer, the inappropriately honest best friend turned responsible father. Rhys Ifans has some fun as Winton, Violet's psych professor and co-worker, with Mindy Kaling, Kevin Hart and Randall Park as her fellow doctorate students. Providing some of the film's best laughs, Brian Posehn plays Tarquin, Tom's deli co-worker and friend in Ann Arbor, while SNL alum Chris Parnell plays Bill, the knitting, hunting friend.

Maybe the worst thing going for 'Engagement' is that at 124 minutes, it is just too long. It has the same problem Bridesmaid did last year. It is funny in snippets but gets bogged down in too many characters, situations and developing detours. Yes, it's five years for the engagement, but maybe 25 minutes could be cut away. We see the problems Tom and Violet are having again and again and again. Cut some of those scenes out, especially when it becomes increasingly easier to not like these two. As for the funny scenes, they're great, especially Tom's first hunting trip with Bill, Tarquin's rehearsal dinner toast, Alex's engagement party slide show to Billy Joel's We Didn't Start the Fire, and a montage of wedding preparing done by the guys. Unfortunately, the funny is held down by the much longer portions that just ain't funny. There's a good movie somewhere in there.

The Five-Year Engagement (2012): ** 1/2 /****

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