The creative team of actor-writer Jason Segel and director-writer Nick Stoller have made their romantic comedy reputations by gently tweaking the standard boy-meets-girl conventions of the well-worn genre and tilting them slightly askew.
They did that quite winningly in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and they do it again in the offbeat and warmly funny, though slightly scattered, “Five-Year Engagement,” which pairs the dauntless romantic Segel with the stunning Emily Blunt and gives the British actress a chance to show off some surprisingly strong comic chops.
With Stoller taking his sweet time (perhaps too much so) rolling out the story of nuptial interruptus, the movie piles on lots of oddball diversions and quirky supporting players to extend what's essentially a pretty simple story.
It goes like this: Segel's Tom is an up-and-coming San Francisco chef who has finally summoned up the nerve to propose to his lovely girlfriend Violet (Blunt). But before their wedding, Violet, a smart psychology grad student, is offered a prestigious position at the University of Michigan. Noble Tom agrees to forego his culinary career and follow Violet to the rustic North Country.
There, she ends up spending too much time at work, under the fervent gaze of a too-interested supervisor (funny Rhys Ifans), and Tom falls into an increasingly sour funk as their wedding plans get put off time and again.
It should be noted that the producer here is Judd Apatow, who is practically a brand name for this sort of R-rated relationship fare. (In fact, ad copy for this film boasts of its ties to the “Bridesmaids” producer, but that's mostly a bait and switch ploy.)
“Five-Year Engagement” contains the usual Apatow touches — lots of sexual frankness and streaming vulgarity, plenty of misunderstanding and miscommunication between men and women, hapless men struggling with issues of ego and maturity. But on its meandering course to “I do,” it contains some decidedly dark and emotional touches.
As Violet is preoccupied with her research (something to do with stale doughnuts, believe it or not), Tom devolves rather ludicrously from a gifted chef into a bearded backwoods yokel with a passion for hunting, smoking venison and brewing mead.
The roster of supporting players, mostly TV mainstays, provides some engaging but largely tangential diversions. The standouts include Mindy Kaling (“The Office”) and Kevin Hart as Violet's chatty U of M colleagues; Alison Brie (“Community”) as Violet's sister and Chris Pratt (“Parks and Recreation”) as Tom's randy, idiot pal; Brian Posehn as Tom's deranged co-worker at a hippie sandwich shop, and Chris Parnell (“Saturday Night Live”) as the sweater-knitting “faculty spouse” who gives Tom a chilling look at what his future might hold.
Stoller does an admirable job of juggling this big cast of extras and dodging in and out of various subplots. But with Segel and Blunt holding center stage and sparking up loads of endearing romantic chemistry, “Five-Year Engagement” largely keeps its eye on the prized couple and keeps us cheering on its long and winding way to the altar.
— Dennis King
Starring: Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Alison Brie, Rhys Ifans, Chris Parnell. (Sexual content and language throughout.)
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