Worth the wait, bunny suit and all
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, Apr. 27, 2012
Is Jason Segel a man or a Muppet?
In "The Five-Year Engagement," a running sight gag has the enormously adorable comic actor dressed in a pink bunny suit, which his character Tom wore to the New Year's Eve party where he met Violet (Emily Blunt). She's dressed as a comely, doe-eyed Princess Di, and it's no wonder that the two hit it off. Precisely one year later, as "The Five-Year Engagement" opens, Tom proposes to Violet in one of the cutest marry-me sequences staged in recent movie history.
In fact, the first 45 minutes or so of "The Five-Year Engagement," which Segel wrote with director Nicholas Stoller ("Get Him to the Greek"), pop and zing with both comic fizz and refreshing authenticity. Set to a delicious soundtrack dominated by Van Morrison standards, Tom's and Violet's lives feel more real than the usual Hollywood confections, with Tom working as a sous chef in a tony San Francisco restaurant and Violet anxiously awaiting acceptance to a postdoc psychology program.
As the leading couple, Blunt and Segel affect an easygoing, mildly naughty banter (especially piquant delivered in Blunt's refined, plum-shaped tones) and they're surrounded by terrific supporting players: Alison Brie, as Violet's sister Suzie, nails the gnarly technical challenge of delivering a tearful toast at an engagement party, and moments later Chris Pratt, as Tom's best friend, Alex, delivers an equally funny, wildly inappropriate encomium, then proceeds to steal every scene he's in.
"The Five-Year Engagement" hits a speed bump right when Tom and Violet do, after they move to Michigan for Violet's postdoc appointment. Tom can't find a job and winds up making sandwiches at the legendary Zingerman's Deli; Violet comes under the sway of a flashy psych professor (played to pitch perfection by Rhys Ifans) and the two begin to grow apart. This is the blue period most romantic comedies gloss over with attractively sad montage sequences set to torchy ballads.
But instead of rushing toward the expected third-act resolution, Segel and Stoller dig in, giving Tom's deepening depression increasingly alarming physical cues, from a set of unruly lamb chop facial whiskers to the now-filthy bunny suit, which he wears on particularly aimless days. Trapped in the dreary snow banks of Ann Arbor, at least, Segel is definitely a Muppet.
Because it's so willing to drill down into Tom and Violet's misery, "The Five-Year Engagement" involves a higher grim-to-grin ratio than its fluffier brethren. There's a particularly unsavory encounter at the deli after hours, and someone winds up losing a body part. Those are the moments that make the two-hour "Five-Year Engagement" feel a half-hour too long.
But there's an unmistakable ring of truth to the couple's conflicts and mixed feelings. During one utterly on-point argument, Tom insists he wants to be alone, then balks when Violet gets up to leave the room. He didn't mean alone alone, he meant together alone.
Later, Violet and her sister play out an argument entirely in Cookie Monster and Elmo voices. Those are the moments that make that extra half-hour, if not narratively entirely necessary, at least worth it.
In keeping with the current trend of R-rated romcoms - and because this is a Judd Apatow production - "The Five-Year Engagement" has its fair share of gratuitous profanity, mostly delivered by a foul-mouthed Zingerman colleague of Tom's. His compulsive interjections feel out of place in a movie that, even at its darkest and weirdest, seems intent on being as sweet as it is brutally honest.
I liked "The Five-Year Engagement," and then I didn't, and then I did - which seems just about right for a movie dedicated to examining how even the purest affections can be fatally derailed.
Contains sexual content and profanity throughout.