Five Year Engagement Wants To Bring Good Romantic Comedies Back
By Alex Cranz
Somewhere, between seasons of How I Met Your Mother Jason Segel became one of the best writers out there when it comes to portraying long term relationships. He seems to get why they work and the dysfunction that can arise from them. First with Forgetting Sarah Marshall and now with the Five Year Engagement.
It’s easy to assume from the trailers that this movie is kind of ridiculous. There are crossbows and weird British accents and grandparents falling like flies. And at times, yes, the movie does get ridiculous and very, very funny. But more often it is romantic and bittersweet. Like a novel perfectly condensed into two hours. We live with Violet and Tom and see them at their best and then at their worst as they try to navigate a love constantly forced into the backseat by Violet’s career, Tom’s fear of inadequacy and a whole bevy of potential romantic partners.
Segel and Emily Blunt are the quintessential modern American couple as deigned by Hollywood. They’re quirky, funny and she’s beautiful but flawed while he’s affable and noble. Blunt’s flirted with comedy before but this is the first film I’ve seen her in where she’s really allowed to cut loose. While it certainly isn’t a supremely daring performance it proves that if she wanted to she could easily shift into slapstick or screwball. In fact I’ve heard her name bandied about for the Thin Man reboot and after this film I’m totally on her side. Cast her even though she’s twenty years younger than Depp. I don’t care!
She and Segel are surrounded by an extraordinary supporting cast that is largely pulled from NBC’s Thursday night comedy block. Chris Pratt puts aside the doofus he plays on Parks and Recreation so that he can play a significantly more self aware and intelligent doofus with an affection for really solid mariachi music. The always perfect Alison Brie tries on a surprisingly effective British accent to play Violet’s sister. Mindy Kaling, Kevin Hart and Randall Park are on hand as three of Violet’s co-workers and they often steal the show with a quick fire rapport and an ability to knock the tension down a few notches when it gets to high.
And it does get high. As funny as Five Year Engagement is I wouldn’t necessarily call it a romantic comedy. It often descends into drama that just happens to be funny. There’s something awfully real about the film. It’s more like a Woody Allen relationship drama in the late 70s than what we consider a romantic comedy.
And much of that has to do with how far the romantic comedy has fallen. What was once a diverse genre that ranged from absurdism to Brechtian realism has now fallen on a hard times. They’ve become wrote. Distilled into one single film that’s churned out ad nausea and seems to grow worse with every release. Romantic comedies are the cinematic equivalent of the short story. No longer something fascinating and heterogeneous but rather a parody of one slight aspect of the whole.
But not Five Year Engagement–or even Forgetting Sarah Marshall. And that return to form–that departure from popular aesthetic is because of Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller. This is their third major collaboration together (they also wrote and Stoller directed The Muppets) and with all three they’ve shown a willingness to be sentimental and an ability to marry that sentimentality with raunchy humor and a deft understanding of what makes modern relationships tick. It makes for a really good movie and one of the better mainstream romantic comedies you’ll likely see this year.