Five Year Engagement

Art & Culture

Judd Apatow's films, even those he produces, tend to follow the same formula; romantic comedies which rely on unstable couple relationships, a lot of scatological humour, and go on too long. The only thing that differentiates them is whether they're funny. This one isn't very.

Violet (Emily Blunt) and Tom (Jason Segel) having met at a New Year's Eve party, have been a couple for about a year when he proposes to her. All is going well, until she's offered an academic post in Michigan (they live in San Francisco), and he agrees to sacrifice his career as a chef to go with her and be supportive. The marriage will have to wait.

And that's about the size of it – for two hours. A variety of random and unimportant obstacles to marriage appear – the Michigan post, complete with Rhys Ifans as a dodgy boss, keeps stretching out, and Tom becomes increasingly infantilised and frustrated. Can it be that this is not a relationship made in movie heaven? Give me a break. This is Hollywood, where a row or a misunderstanding is simply a preliminary to making up and an all singing all dancing happy ending. Which is fine; that's the template and we wouldn't want it any other way. But what we do want is a relationship between a man and a woman who are equally appealing, and a degree of plausibility about the challenges that keep them apart.

What we have here is Emily Blunt, who is divine, wonderful, beautiful, funny, charming, intelligent and perfect; and on the other hand, Jason Segel, big, puddingy, uninteresting, self-obsessed and not remotely good looking, with a strong streak of man child. So that doesn't help, since no one in their right minds is going to think that he is remotely in her league. Then there are the marriage obstacles. These consist on the one hand of her enjoying her work, being flattered by Ifans' greasy attentions and wanting everything to be perfect; and on the other hand his being unable to find a proper job, hanging out nerdy doofuses, and feeling sorry for himself rather than manning up.

In addition, there are the extraneous characters which are regarded as essential to stretch things out until the end of time. Tom has a best friend, Alex, who like all the men in Apatow films can't open his mouth without making inappropriate sexual remarks, while Violet has a sister (Suzie) who inexplicably pairs up with Alex; together they watch Tom and Violet failing to achieve what is essentially so simple, but in the process, become a separate movie in their own right (and possibly a more interesting one). My other complaint is that all the subsidiary characters have no independent life or credibility of their own, but are simply two dimensional caricatures with one defining form of behaviour.

The main reason to watch the film is to worship at the altar of Emily Blunt, who is like a younger version of Emma Thompson. For the rest, there are some nice moments, the odd laugh, and a lot of padding. You'd have to be fairly hard pressed to regard this as a good way to spend £10 and 2 hours.


By Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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