Seeing the sexy, smart and casually sophisticated actress Emily Blunt in one of producer Judd Apatow’s middlebrow romances is like watching a classy friend hook up with the wrong guy. While in The Five-Year Engagement you hope everything will work out, the mismatched affair becomes increasingly difficult to watch. That’s especially true when the lady in question’s previous relationship was far more suitable. In this case, that would be Blunt’s appearance in last month’s sparkling Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.
Blunt stars as Violet Barnes, who wants to get into a post-grad psychology program at UC Berkeley. Her man-child boyfriend Tom Solomon (Jason Segel), an unlikely sous chef at an upscale San Francisco eatery, pops the question exactly one year after the two met at a “create your own superhero” party. He was a lumbering dough-faced doofus in a bunny suit and she was an elegant if incongruous Princess Diana, making theirs the type of dubious hookup that occurs mostly in bad sitcoms.
Complications ensue when Violet is turned down by Berkeley but accepted by the distant and less desirable University of Michigan. Tom agrees to move there with her and delay their wedding. Strains appear when he ends up underemployed as a deli sandwich maker, lets his appearance go to hairy-faced hell and develops a creepy interest in home-decor taxidermy. Meanwhile, Violet has caught the eye of her witty and urbane department superior Winton Childs (Rhys Ifans).
Segel, who co-wrote The Five-Year Engagement with director Nicholas Stoller, also wrote and starred in the Apatow-produced and Stoller-directed Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Both movies are too long and run out of gas early.
Supporting characters here include Tom’s restaurant co-worker Alex Eilhauer (Chris Pratt), an obnoxiously immature “dude!”-speak stereotype. Violet’s seemingly intelligent sister Suzie (Alison Brie) is initially disgusted by Alex, but apparently can’t resist his mentally challenged charms. In a subplot that is unpleasantly reminiscent of the Apatow-produced Knocked Up, Suzie gets preggers by the embarrassing Alex, marries him, has the baby and finds unexpected satisfaction with the consequences of those decisions.
That storyline sums up what’s wrong with nearly every Apatow-produced “relationship” flick (as opposed to his enjoyably absurd Will Ferrell comedies such as Anchorman, Step Brothers and Talladega Nights). Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek, Superbad and Knocked Up, to name four, all try to temper mook-centric misogyny with what’s supposed to look like female-friendly sensitivity.
Violet’s research studies, which are supposed to represent the most meaningfully fulfilling work of her life, are so insultingly trivial that she seems selfish and stupid for giving them any importance. A metaphor involving stale donuts is so overused that every mention of it may as well come with an elbow jab to the ribs. When the couple briefly splits, Tom can’t keep up with the voracious sexual appetite of an airhead 23-year-old blond who finds him irresistible. But because Tom continues to pine for Violet, the character gets to live out that male fantasy while still seeming redeemably thoughtful to the ladyfolk.
Nearly the only scene in the movie that’s genuinely amusing — as opposed to merely abusive, desperate, vulgar or cliché — involves sisters Violet and Suzie talking to each other in the voices of Sesame Street‘s Cookie Monster and Elmo.
As for the rest, this engagement is definitely off.
[Rating: 1.5 stars]
The Five-Year Engagement is released in US and Canada in theatres Friday April 27, 2012. Australia release May 3, 2012. UK release Friday June 22, 2012.
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