The Five-Year Engagement is too long for the typical romance-on-the-rocks fare. Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, TV's How I Met Your Mother), lead actor and co-writer with director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), packs in the slapstick and retains plain goodwill with Emily Blunt (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, The Young Victoria) in a romantic comedy that provides moments of pure delight. Yet, an hour could be edited out and Five-Year would sharpen its familiar take on how relationships can stumble along, allowing life's obstacles (a sister's wedding, death, etc.) to act as excuses not to leap into marriage.
Segel works in relaxed form as Tom, a talented chef who, wearing a pink bunny costume at a New Year's Eve party, meets Violet (Blunt), a sociology major dressed as Princess Diana. (Funny wig, by the way.) It's love at first sight, and much of the flirtation is rehashed later in slow motion to parody other movie romances that have been ignited that way. Segel has an affable face that he uses to play an appealing nerd, and at other times, a sexy seducer. Blunt charms her way straight through, leveling Segel's self-effacing wistfulness.
Segel maneuvers Tom and Violet through various romantic troubles, such as when he follows her from San Francisco, where he is just about to break through as a top chef, to the wintry wilds of the University of Michigan because she receives a post-doctorate research position. Her idea for a psychology experiment is to see how quickly test subjects will eat stale doughnuts, even if fresh ones are promised, and let's just say that doughnuts factor into the couple's life several times. Without a challenging job-he works in a deli-Tom becomes obsessed with deer hunting to the point that he has fur-lined mugs and grows a grisly beard. The whole section falls flat because the timing drags and descends into boredom. Elsewhere, one wades through a string of down-low jokes, gratuitous sex, and a food fight in which Tom is smothered with potato salad and hot sauce. All could have landed on the cutting-room floor, except that would mean giving up a few of Segel's signature comic tags.
Thankfully, some seriously funny moments are tacked on to Tom and Violet's prolonged foibles. One of the best skits in Five-Year occurs when Segel isn't in the scene: Violet and her sister Suzie (a very funny Alison Brie of TV's Community and Mad Men), imitate Elmo and Cookie Monster's voices from Sesame Street and launch into an argument about which sister's life is better. Hearing the two women scream and then apologize as the Muppets makes for an original, hysterical exchange.
Segel also gains laughs using snappy visual details. A sign in front of a BBQ joint reads, "Save a Cow, Eat Pork," and the other actors suitably humiliate themselves doing the Chicken Dance at the couple's second engagement party. Supporting actors are plentiful and refreshing, especially Rhys Ifans (Notting Hill, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1), the engaging Welsh actor who adds a quirky turn as Violet's professor, Winton.
In the end, lines such as, "Academia is my life. Maybe you don't understand," which Violet carelessly tosses at Tom after he has changed his life for her and slowly goes crazy over it, arrive way too late. We already get it. Now make up and get married.
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