Tom Solomon and Violet Barnes may be perfect for each other. They get each other so well that he knows the perfect engagement ring for her [not the expected big honkin’ diamond…] and she understands his sense of humor. Unfortunately, once they get engaged – and despite their best, most enthusiastic efforts, nothing seems to go right.
The 5-Year Engagement is the next movie from writers Nicholas Stoller [who also directs] and Jason Segal [who also stars] and is produced by Judd Apatow – the team behind Forgetting Sarah Marshall. It’s a romantic dramedy that mixes a core sweetness with frequent darkness and crudity – though, comparatively less nudity than one might expect.
Against a hopelessly telegraphed attempt by Tom [Segal] to surprise Violet [Emily blunt] with a proposal, is intercut a flashback detailing their meet cute [at a superhero themed costumed party he comes as Super Bunny and she as Princess Diana – because she needs no superpowers].
Once engaged, they begin to work on the wedding arrangements while she awaits word as a job in the psychology department of a San Francisco university and he works as a sous chef in a top restaurant. They are egged on by their parents – especially Violet’s mom, Sylvia [played by Animal Kingdom’s Jacki Weaver], who tells her to hustle it up because her grandparents won’t be around forever [she, the four grandparents and Violet are all talking together via Skype at the time].
When a variant of Violet’s dream job appears at the University of Michigan, he makes the decision to support her and give up his job so she can take that job. They can put off the wedding for a couple years. No big deal. Sadly, once there, the only place that’ll hire him is a deli.
While Violet works for Professor Winton Childs [Rhys Ifans], performing behavioral experiments and moving towards a tenured position, Tom is making sandwiches [really good sandwiches, it should be said] and hanging with fellow university spouse Bill [Archer’s Chris Parnell] – who hunts and knits.
The 5-Year Engagement charts the highs and lows of Violet and Tom’s relationship, showing them at their best and their worst, and then juxtaposing them with a couple that couldn’t be less perfect for each other in her sister, Suzie [Alison Brie] and his best friend, Alex [Chris Pratt] – who hooked up at Tom and Violet’s engagement party.
Some elements of The 5-Year engagement don’t quite work – Brian Poshen as tom’s foul-mouthed boss at the deli, for example, grates more than anything else, and the attempt at a running gag with Violet’s dad, George [Jim Piddock] and his much, much younger Asian wife goes nowhere [except to be featured in a rant by Sylvia] – but others are spectacular successes, as when Tom’s folks, Pete [David Paymer] and Carol [Mimi Kennedy] decide it’s time to sit Tom down and lay out the facts of life for him.
Tom and Violet’s path from engagement and marriage is fraught with unexpected detours as well as the more than occasional ups and downs, but despite needing a bit of pruning, The 5-Year Engagement manages enough moments of truth [if not reality] to work on both comedic and dramatic terms. Sure, it could have used a bit more editing [let’s call it about fifteen minutes], but the good stuff vastly outweighs the less wonderful. And we do get to discover Chris Pratt and Alison Brie’s lovely singing voices [seriously!], so that must count for something.
All the principals are extremely good here. Segal and Blunt make a perfectly adorable couple; Pratt and Brie make a perfectly imperfect couple and Weaver steals every scene she’s in. Although Poshen is out of place here, tonally, Parnell is just right as the university spouse who hunts [with both rifle and bow] and knits awkwardly ugly sweaters while his kids take their long, boring naps. Ifans does a great job as Violet’s understated control freak boss, and Mindy Kaling, Randall Park and Kevin Hartscore some big laughs as Violet’s co-workers.
Stoller generally keeps things moving well during the film’s lighter moments, but loses that pacing during the darker parts, when he has a tendency to let the characters wallow too much. The result is that the film’s darker segments can seem to outnumber the lighter – even though the opposite is true.
Still, the good bits [light and dark] come from enough of a place of truth that we never quite stop relating to Tom and Violet. That’s why the movie works – even if it does, occasionally, try too hard.
Final Grade: B
Photos by Glen Wilson/Courtesy of Universal Pictures