T he problem that plagues so many Judd Apatow productions — the one that keeps good comedies from being great ones — unfortunately exists in “The Five-Year Engagement,” too. It’s a matter of knowing when to say when, of knowing which bits should be trimmed and which should have been cut altogether.
“The Five-Year Engagement” is so scattered and overlong, it really feels like it lasts five years, and even the inherent likability of stars Jason Segel and Emily Blunt can’t overcome the film’s pervasive sense of strain. It becomes so tortured, it almost gets to the point where you hope these two will break up for good, just because it’s the pragmatic thing to do and because it would finally wrap things up.
And that’s a shame, because the movie reunites Segel with Nicholas Stoller; the two also co-wrote 2008’s “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” one of the more well-balanced Apatow productions, with Stoller once again directing and Segel starring as the doughy everyman. (Stoller also wrote and directed “Get Him to the Greek,” which was hilarious but also overstayed its welcome just a tad.)
Like “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “The Five Year Engagement” touches on themes of love found and lost in a serious way, and to its credit it does find some moments of emotional truth amid the inconsistent laughs. But man, it is a messy slog to get to them.
It begins promisingly enough. Segel’s Tom Solomon, a sous chef at an upscale San Francisco restaurant, proposes to his girlfriend, Blunt’s Violet Barnes, on the one-year anniversary of the night they met: New Year’s Eve. (Flashbacks to their meet-cute are incorporated in amusing ways.) Blunt and Segel have an easy, low-key way with each other in these early scenes that never rises to full-scale, crackling chemistry.
But as they’re planning their wedding, Violet gets accepted to the University of Michigan to study for her doctorate in psychology, so they postpone their big day for the first of many times. Seasons change, years pass and Tom isn’t nearly so enamored of snowy Ann Arbor as he pretended to be at the beginning. Meanwhile, Violet is asked to stay and do post-doctorate work, so they’re stuck in marital limbo even longer than expected. Tom continues trudging away at a deli that is totally beneath his culinary expertise while Violet works even more closely with her intriguing Welsh professor (Rhys Ifans, who’s very good here in an unusually dialed-down role).
Additionally, Violet’s sister (Alison Brie) has gotten pregnant from a drunken romp with Tom’s loutish best friend (Chris Pratt), and the resulting pregnancy — and wedding, and baby — supposedly serve as further obstacles to Violet and Tom’s nuptials.
This all sounds like a drag, right? That’s probably because it is. Halfway through you want to yell at the screen for them to run off to Las Vegas and just get it over with already; then again, it becomes increasingly difficult to root for them to stay together when they seem to be headed down such divergent paths.
Stoller and Segel try to liven things up with wacky gags and oddball supporting characters, including Tom’s profane boss (Brian Posehn), who’s obsessed with pickling things; Tom’s only friend (Chris Parnell), a university spouse who knits sloppy sweaters and teaches him to hunt deer; and Ming (Randall Park), one of Violet’s research partners who has wild ideas for experiments that are never funny.
One character slices off part of a finger. Another loses a toe. And on it rambles.
The movie finally finds some much-needed whimsy at the absolute end — but by then, it’s too late.