The film begins with Tom’s (Jason Segel) romantic proposal to Violet (Emily Blunt) in their home town of San Francisco. But the Five Year Engagement is the ‘what happens next’ in the romantic comedy genre and it all goes downhill from there. As Violet’s mum neatly points out during their beautiful outdoor engagement party, while most couples think of marriage in terms of a Hollywood rom-com, ‘the sad fact is that most relationships end up like Saving Private Ryan or Philadelphia’.
And it so it follows that shortly into the wedding preparations Violet is offered her dream job as a Post Doctoral student at a university in Michigan. Tom gives up a career-making job offer as head chef and they delay the wedding for a couple of years. As two years turn into three, four and five, Tom struggles with ailing career prospects in the sleepy city, burying himself in hobbies – knitting and hunting – with other Faculty husbands. Meanwhile, friends and family carry on with their lives, much to the couple’s frustration, and they begin to wonder if their marriage will ever happen.
The Five Year Engagement is pumped full of subtle humour but there are also splashes of the outrageous. A scene where the now bearded Tom serves homemade mead from deer skin pint-pots stands out as particularly whacky but demonstrates Tom’s desperation in superb fashion. Much of the humour comes from men taking on roles that stereotypically belong to women and Tom’s wedding planning with the guys is a hotbed for laughs. The Five Year Engagement’s role reversal is refreshing, making some interesting points about compromise and the traditional roles of women.
As in Segel’s previous screenplays and much of Apatow’s work, The Five Year Engagement’s male lead has a deeply vulnerable side that Segel pitches perfectly. While Segel and Blunt don’t look like an obvious pairing – and this is emphasised during their first meeting, where Blunt is dressed as the beautiful and stylish Princess Diana and Segel as a cuddly Super Bunny – their on-screen chemistry make this couple more realistic than most.
The real strength of The Five Year Engagement is it’s honest and truthful script. The shift from joy and excitement into fear and dissatisfaction is steady and grounded. The performances are first-rate and there’s an awkwardness about the delivery of the dialogue that make it feel very real. Set against the backdrop of Violet’s self-esteem psychology experiments – that become a metaphor for much of the couple’s behaviour – this becomes even more poignant. The Five Year Engagement is the second screenplay from Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, the duo that brought us The Muppets earlier this year. And, with Forgetting Sarah Marshall also under his belt, Segel is now well on the way to forging a strong career as a comedy writer.
The Five Year Engagement is funny and heartfelt. It’s a modern romantic comedy, but its also relatable and a great antidote to the heavily glamorised and fashion focused rom-coms that are churned out year on year. Look out for Segel’s nod to puppets (as in all his screenplays) in the hilarious exchange between Elmo and Cookie Monster.