Since making his first major acting debut in 1999 on the TV series Freaks and Geeks, Jason Segal has become the actor that Hollywood has the hardest time pinning down. First cast as a strange giant of a soft-hearted man on several sitcoms, Segal has managed to use his friendship with powerful comedic film producer Judd Apatow to his advantage by finagling starring roles in enough hits to call his own shots now. The entire existence of last year’s The Muppets boils down to Disney wanting to get into the Jason Segal business.
So with this much talent and power driving The Five-Year Engagement, why isn’t it better?
Hitting the screen from a script written by Segal and longtime partner Nicholas Stoller, Engagement is the story of Tom (Segal) and Violet (Emily Blunt), a young San Francisco couple who get engaged on New Year’s Eve after one year of dating. Tom is a talented chef with the potential to run a restaurant of his own one day — until Violet receives the news that she has been accepted as a researcher at Michigan University. Leaving everything behind, Tom follows Violet into the bitter cold of the North, only to find that there isn’t a huge demand for mega-talented chefs with huge salaries in college towns. While Violet blooms in her new environment, Tom retreats into hunting deer and growing drifteresque facial hair. With each new hurdle, another delay is tacked onto the troubled wedding.
Stoller is an artist who tends to be hit or miss, depending on who is working with him. Under the Apatow umbrella, he has given us the underappreciated jewels Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek. But working with others, we have received such flops as Gulliver’s Travels and Yes Man. Here, the better umbrella has suddenly developed a leak, as we receive our first subpar effort from the duo of Segal and Stoller. It appears that the creators may have been a bit too in love with their words, as the film comes in at an unwieldy 124 minutes.
That isn’t to say that Engagement is only one good editor away from being a masterpiece; the problems are much more troublesome than that. Segal’s portrayal of characters hasn’t evolved much over the years. From his recurring stint on the Fox sitcom Undeclared to his oafish best-friend roles in such films as I Love You, Man and Knocked Up, there always seems to be something wrong with his characters — you could definitely see him becoming a stalker or some sort of possessive personality. While Segal no doubt believes this gives a sheen of reality and grit to any given character he is portraying, for every role this works with (the aforementioned Eric in Undeclared) there is another where it sticks out like a sore thumb (here, for instance), and we are left to wonder if it was a case of an inexperienced director being too intimidated to reign him in.
There are no such problems with the rest of the talented cast. Emily Blunt continues to be one of the most underrated actresses of the past decade by once again inhabiting a role that she is completely believable in. Perhaps Blunt’s most impressive talent is being able to generate chemistry with every actor she comes into contact with, as she seemingly wills great performances out of the supporting cast surrounding her. Alison Brie (NBC’s Community) is a revelation as Suzie, Violet’s younger sister, who marries Tom’s best friend Alex (Chris Pratt of NBC’s Parks & Recreation). The American Brie seems to relish the opportunity to show off her vocal skills in adapting an English accent, holding it amazingly well throughout the film.
Universal Pictures executives no doubt had visions of last year’s Bridesmaids box office success dancing in their heads when they scheduled Engagement for release one week before The Avengers, probably assuming it would be guaranteed counter-programming for the nonstop action flicks that are due to hit cinemas over the next few months. What they seemingly failed to realize was that Bridesmaids was actually funny, while here we just watch two miserable people attempt to make it down the altar in two hours. By the end, we are all left to wonder why anyone would choose to marry either of them.