THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT (Rated R)
Everyday life often results in making bad decisions. My most recent terrible choice was thinking that the comedic pedigree of a Judd Apatow production would result in unbridled hilarity.
As a result, I screened “The Five-Year Engagement” instead of trying to see the animated comedy “The Pirates! Band of Misfits.” This error in judgment cost me roughly an extra hour of time never to be recovered.
Just for starters, “The Five-Year Engagement” is almost as long and plodding as the title suggests. Given the object of attention is the appealing coupling of Jason Segel and Emily Blunt, I had hoped for a better, livelier outcome.
At times funny, sometimes touching and other times crude or profane (hey, this has the stamp of Apatow on it), this effort by director Nicholas Stoller (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) wanders the landscape without a decent payoff.
The film opens with Segel’s Tom and Blunt’s Violet on the anniversary of how they met one year earlier at a New Year’s Eve costume party.
In a flashback, we see Tom dressed as a pink bunny while Violet perfected the Princess Diana look, complete with the sparkly tiara to complement the spot-on hairdo.
The sous-chef at an upscale San Francisco restaurant, Tom has a great career in the works. Violet is angling for a postdoctoral position at Berkeley.
No sooner than Tom and Violet have their engagement party do things start to change in their lives.
Tom’s friend and fellow chef Alex (Chris Pratt) has a one-night stand with Violet’s sister (Alison Brie). Let’s just say that the two of them get married a lot sooner than Tom and Violet.
Meanwhile, Violet loses out at Berkeley but gets accepted by University of Michigan into the school’s psychology department. This leads to the first of many dilemmas.
Leaving behind a great opportunity to become the head chef at a new chic eatery, Tom heads off to Michigan with Violet for what turns out to be a serious period of adjustment.
Violet finds professional satisfaction with her university position, working with some goofy colleagues and being drawn closely to her charismatic mentor, head of the department, Winton Childs (Rhys Ifans).
On the other hand, Tom is rejected by every restaurant in town, some expressing great puzzlement and amusement at his decision to abandon a great gig in the Bay Area.
The only job Tom can locate is one of making sandwiches in a hippie deli run by some unforgettable goofballs, including Brian Posehn as the self-described “pickle nerd.”
The bleak Michigan winters, added to the general lack of excitement, cause Tom to fall in with another faculty spouse, Bill (Chris Parnell), a sad and lonely oddball who spends time knitting really ugly sweaters.
Bill also introduces Tom to the outdoor pleasure of deer hunting, and before you know it, Tom grows a long, straggly beard that makes him look like the Unabomber.
When Violet’s two-year tenure at the university turns into an unexpectedly longer commitment, Tom sinks so deep into depression that it seems to be a stretch to think of this movie as a romantic comedy.
The best comedic effort comes from Tom’s old chef buddy Alex, who has a real knack for being a foolish but amusingly annoying jerk.
For his part, Jason Segel has no problem going for the laughs, even if it requires exposing sensitive body parts. Thankfully, he only bares his butt this time, not the full frontal exposure as in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”
The premise of “The Five-Year Engagement” appears to be that love will eventually win out over an extended period of time, if the parties are right for each other.
At least, I think that’s the foundational reason for a story that should have been resolved in the same amount of time as a half-hour sitcom.
One can’t help but wonder why two people in love will not find a way to make marriage work, whether they’re stuck in the desolate environment of Michigan or the boondocks of North Dakota or northern Minnesota.
But then, “The Five-Year Engagement” would have lost its promise of being considered a romantic comedy, even though I firmly believe it is only intermittently funny.
Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.