Review: Pro-Marriage Message wrapped in Delightful but Crude Comedy in ‘Five Year Engagement’

Jason Segel is well on his way to a Hollywood double threat: A leading man who can make the ladies swoon and who can write the screenplays to do it. Plus, he seems to have something to say.

In “The Five Year Engagement,” opening today, he takes on one of modern romance’s sacred cows: That couples may live together, but must have every detail of finance, career, family, and future worked out before tying the knot.

Really, why wait?

Like Judd Apatow who produced this film, Segel and co-writer and director Nicholas Stoller serve up lots of laughs. They are the sugar that make the mature, even conservative, medicine of a message do down.

Segel plays Tom, a sous chef with a tasty future in San Francisco. As the movie opens, he proposes to Violet (Emily Blunt), his girlfriend of one year, an aspiring professor of psychology. They’re both old enough to know their own mind. They’re also madly in love, even if their particular romantic story involves a bunny suit and a Princess Diana costume.

Of course she says yes.

That’s the point where most romantic comedies end, but this one is just beginning.

Then it’s time to plan their wedding, hoping to do so before their remaining grandparents, well, kick the bucket. Life, however, has a habit of getting in the way. One circumstance after another postpones the nuptials until both wonder if they were such a good idea after all.

A word to guys contemplating this film: rest easy. It’s not a wedding movie, the type with the funny planner and the crazy in-laws. No one ends up falling into the cake.

Instead, it’s a life and relationship movie. It starts at “happily ever after,” but those of us who are married know that “saying yes to the dress” is a beginning, not an endpoint.

The film follows Violet and Tom as they chase career goals, make sacrifices for one another, and deal with temptations, all the while with that pesky ceremony hanging over their head.

You see, in one sense, they’re already married. They share a home and a bed, love each other, and share lives. So why is the ceremony important? And yet, somehow, it is.

It matters.

Tom and Violet, however, keep putting it off because of life details they haven’t yet worked out. Where will they live? Where will they work? They don’t know even as they accept career opportunities and move across the country for them. The business of life goes on even while their marriage waits to begin.

It’s when they see that this is exactly what marriage is that they realize how silly they’ve been. “We can’t solve all our problems before we marry and we’ll have some after,” Violet tells Tom, but it’s time to take a leap of faith.

Contrasted with them are Violet’s sister (Community’s Alison Brie) and Alex (Parks and Recreation’s Chris Pratt), whose shotgun marriage becomes a success, despite all the odds.

Get on with it, the movie is saying. Grow up.

Or, as Violet’s mother puts it, “You don’t have to explore every cookie. You pick one and take a bite.”

Like the rest of the Apatow oeuvre, the movie makes a shockingly conservative argument in an equally shockingly coarse manner. The movie is rated R for a reason. With lots of profanity and crude conversation and plenty of humorous sex depicted, it’s a movie for grown-ups. It never goes quite as far as Knocked Up or The 40 Year Old Virgin, the difference being several jokes about things like masturbation but no actual depictions of it.

While it doesn’t shy away from coarse humor, the film gets its laughs more from the study of human nature and slapstick than from shocks: The stay-at-home dad who knits his own horrific sweaters; the attempt, during a foot chase, to climb over a car that goes horribly wrong; the psychology graduate students who are slightly unhinged themselves. It’s hilarious.

Its occasionally juvenile humor makes the truth of the message easy to swallow. Marriage is a leap, it says, but jump on in. The water is fine.

Just fine.

 

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  • Abby

    I always appreciate your reviews, Rebecca. I am glad you don’t have over the top expectations for Hollywood like so many people I talk to do. It’s Hollywood, not church. We take it in stride, learn what to expect, and look for artfulness, intelligence, humor, and a redemptive or poignant message. Or, that’s what I look for, and it seems like you do too. At our house, we think Jason Segel is amazingly talented so only a flock of bad reviews would have us miss this. Sometimes we have to wait for Judd Apatow to be edited for television though! Thanks for the review. We may even try to catch this this weekend- the 12 year anniversary of the end of our five month engagement :)

    • Rebecca Cusey

      Thanks so much for the feedback and encouragement. I think people live their lives in all sorts of ways. Some people are very used to crude humor and language and some just are horrified. I figure that’s up to y’all and my job is to let you know what you’re getting into.

      Hope you enjoyed it if you saw it.

  • Sean

    Awesome home page pic for this review!

    • Rebecca Cusey

      Thanks!


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