Friday, May 04, 2012

Jason Segel and Emily Blunt offer up an 'engaging' romantic comedy

"The Five-Year Engagement" is a romantic comedy — a genre that is often dreaded by many because, at least lately, they are rarely romantic or particularly funny. Blissfully, that is not the case here. This is a charming film that is a perfectly balanced romantic comedy.

This is the latest film to come from producer Judd Apatow, who, not even including the films he has written and directed, has an impressive roster of films associated with his name including "Anchorman," "Superbad," "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and "Bridesmaids."

Generally speaking, the Apatow formula is raunchy, crude humor paired with sweetness and well developed characters who seem real rather than cookie-cutter comedy cliches.

Of the large troupe of actors, writers and directors that Apatow likes to work with, "Five-Year Engagement" co-writer and director Nicholas Stoller and star Jason Segel, who co-wrote the film with Stoller, have become the best and most reliable.

The film stars the immensely likeable Segel and Emily Blunt as a couple whose engagement keeps getting delayed. Their relationship is tested when they move to Michigan when Blunt's Violet gets a two-year job as a research assistant that gets extended indefinitely. Segel's Tom feels as if he's had to sacrifice his culinary career and struggles to find himself.

People who know me know that I love a good romantic comedy, but the problem is most modern romantic comedies are so disconnected from any plane of reality and feature characters so bereft of any redeemable qualities it is difficult to have any sort of rooting interest in whether the central characters find love.

"The Five-Year Engagement" is just as formulaic as any other example of the genre — in fact the only part in which it sags is during the inevitable plot development that splits up Segel and Blunt — but the difference is these are characters we grow to like and even love.

The central couple is surrounded by a strong supporting cast of quirky friends and family of the couple, a requirement of all romantic comedies. Rhys Ifans as Blunt's boss and a rival for her affections is dryly funny and Mimi Kennedy and David Paymer get some nice and unexpected moments as Tom's parents. The standouts of the supporting cast though are Chris Pratt, as Tom's best friend, and Alison Brie, as Violet's sister.

Pratt brings the same sort of affable charm that he provides in the show "Parks and Recreation" and gets some of the film's best jokes including some bathroom humor featuring Michael Jordan as the punchline. Brie, so hilarious on the show "Community," slips nicely into a British accent and steals every scene she is in. Her best scene involves her and Blunt having to speak in Elmo and Cookie Monster voices in front of her daughter.

Blunt and Segel are a great on-screen couple with a genuine sense of chemistry. They feel like a real couple, which isn't something you can say about a lot of on-screen pairings. It is easy to stay emotionally invested in these characters. When they fight it feels authentic rather than contrived.

Segel recently said in an interview that he finds "romantic comedies to be overwritten and you hear people speak perfectly and that's not how people argue. When I hear perfectly crafted arguments I lose interest." The dialogue in "Five-Year Engagement" reflects that attitude. Yes, the characters are often very sharp and quick-witted, but other times they stumble over their words in a way that is recognizably human.

This marks the fourth collaboration of Stoller and Segel following Stoller directing Segel's screenplay for "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," Stoller writing and directing the "Marshall" spin-off "Get Him to the Greek" and the duo writing last year's "The Muppets."

They are a shrewd team that is able to work within the romantic comedy genre, but they write dialogue and characters that rise above the mechanics of the plot. They realize it is the journey that counts not the destination. They populate their films with oddball characters, smart dialogue, and a lot of heart. "The Five-Year Engagement" continues their winning streak and it'll be exciting to see what they do next.

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