The romantic comedy genre has been so successfully championed by Judd Apatow and pals of late that no one else has a chance of competing. This is because taking a sensitive look at relationships focalised through a male perspective yet still possessing the equal influence of female characters is unusual in the type of film which generally casts the opposite sexes as enemy combatants.
The Five Year Engagement is yet another Apatow production which examines society’s obsession with matrimony, the familiar pressures placed upon a relationship and the external obligations of life which rarely enter into the equation in rom coms. And like Funny People, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Bridesmaids and Knocked Up it is funny, over-long and riddled with moments of melancholy which remind you that there is no god and one day you will die.
Jason Segel and Emily Blunt play Tom and Violet, a couple whose engagement is sidelined again and again in order to accommodate developments in their careers. Or more accurately her career as a post-doctoral psychology student, because Tom decides that giving up his job as a rising star on the San Francisco culinary scene is worth it to follow Violet to a new posting in snow-strewn, land locked Michigan.
Written by Segel and director Nicholas Stoller, you might argue this is a thoughtful dissection of contemporary romance in a world where career is as important for men as it is for women. Although you could equally credit the feministic messages of the film to coincidence rather than authorial intent.
Tom and Violet are a believable couple, if you ignore the disparity in their attractiveness. You’ll have a tougher time believing that Tom is a sought-after chef, because all he seems to do is chop onions. Meanwhile Violet’s psychological experiments conducted in her academic work are clearly a clumsy metaphor for the film as a whole, which is a fact they wriggle out of by highlighting it in the dialogue. While this is quite a post-modern joke, it also allows the movie to have its ornate cupcake and eat it too.
You might feel compelled to compare The Five Year Engagement to insufferable hipster distraction piece 500 Days of Summer. And to a certain degree there are surface similarities, but Tom and Violet are actually likeable as a couple and neither gender is presented as this unknowable, indecipherable mystery. They behave like real people. Or as much like real people as is possible in an entirely contrived romantic environment.
The Five Year Engagement is gentler and subtler than some of Apatow’s other comedies, bearing the hallmarks of Segel’s doughier side which emerged first in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and more recently The Muppets. This will probably mean a smaller take at the box office. But for a film that was made to look soppy and unappealing in its promotional material, it is surprisingly grounded and rounded.