Monday, April 30, 2012

Review: The Five-Year Engagement

Sometimes things are all perfectly lined up.  Sometimes a project seemingly has everything going for it and just by looking at the collection of talent on paper you know it is going to do well.  And sometimes despite all these things, the movie does not come together as planned.  I think the latter sums up what happened with The Five-Year Engagement, which had a great producer, a good director, and a strong cast, yet opened in fifth place at the box office earning just over $11MM to go with lukewarm review.   

Let me start by saying that in no way do I think it is a bad movie.  To the contrary, there are some genuinely funny and poignant scenes in this film that are universally relatable.  Even the movie's harshest critics would have to agree with that.  Most of us are familiar with producer Judd Apatow’s resume (Bridesmaids, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Superbad), and while his latest movie is not on par with his greatest hits, for the most part this movie does not stray too far from the pack.

What it has going for it is the cast.  Jason Segel has mastered the art of playing an affable guy with a good balance of comedic male bravado and a high emotional IQ and Emily Blunt is very charming with her rowdy brand of British sensibility.  What makes the cast particularly stand out though are those working in a supporting capacity.  Chris Pratt (as Segel’s BFF) and Alison Brie (as Blunt’s sister) steal the show as a fun-loving mismatched couple providing a sharp contrast to our protagonists.  Rhys Ifans (as the foil), Mindy Kaling, Randall Park, Kevin Hart, Chris Parnell, and Brian Posehn do a great job of accompanying Segel and Blunt along their romantic path and adding a comedic soundtrack to their foibles. 

Yet despite all this wealth of talent at work in this film, there exists a disconnect between the onscreen product and the audience and in my opinion it is born from two important factors:

1. Length and Pacing.  To put it bluntly, the movie runs too long. It feels like director Nicholas Stoller had such an embarrassment of riches that he is hard pressed to leave anything on the cutting room floor.  Unfortunately a good number of these comedic bits do very little to advance the plot and thus the net result is that the pacing gets knocked off and the plot comes to a screeching halt in the third act.

2. Segel and Blunt as Tom Solomon and Violet Barnes respectively are highly entertaining, but as a couple they lose a good measure of their likability.  There is something about their chemistry – as good as it is at times – that made me less than enthusiastic about their prospects.  It was not so much that I was rooting against them, but more that as the movie unfolded, I felt less convinced that they had to be together in order for the film to pay off.  For a romantic comedy, that is an incredibly damning statement.

Still, I would recommend this movie.  It is funny, entertaining, and there is great acting across the board.  I just don’t think you will walk away from this one readily prepared to elevate it into the cannon of Judd Apatow movies.  You won’t kick yourself for watching this in the theater, but I don’t know it demands a big picture showing.  When watching, pay close attention to Rhys Ifans (Notting Hill, The Replacements) as he next appears as the heavy in this summer’s The Amazing Spider-man.

Standout Performance:  Chris Patt as Alex Eilhauer is all over the map in this film in a very good way and outright steals the show.


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