The first 30 minutes are funny, and the last five minutes offer a satisfying new resolution to a familiar storyline. But everything else in “The Five-Year Engagement” feels like it’s unfolding in real time, a bloated slog that isn’t humorous or heartfelt enough to justify its existence.
This is disappointing. Coming from “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” director Nicholas Stoller and his co-writer (and star) Jason Segel, with Judd Apatow onboard as producer and a winning cast assembled, “Five-Year Engagement” would seem to have everything it needs to be another raunchy-but-sweet success. Segel and Emily Blunt play Tom and Violet, a San Francisco couple whose marriage plans are postponed when Violet gets into a two-year graduate program at the University of Michigan and Tom accompanies her, leaving behind a promising career as a chef. Since the move is only temporary, and since things are hectic, and well, what with one thing and another, the wedding is put off indefinitely.
In the meantime, Tom and Violet’s relationship suffers. Her success in academia (she’s working in social psychology) pleases Tom, but he’s also mildly resentful about his inability to find a promising culinary career in Michigan. Violet is a go-getter; Tom is less ambitious. Violet’s adviser, pretentious Winton Childs (Rhys Ifans), flirts with her, and Tom feels threatened.
Somewhere in all this is an insightful comic examination of the messiness and imperfection of relationships. We catch glimpses of it occasionally, but they are quickly extinguished by one cheap, implausible comic stunt or another: Tom wanders drunkenly in the snow and gets frostbite; Violet gets shot with an arrow by an unsupervised toddler; Tom grows a mountain man beard and starts making mead out of homegrown honey. There’s an embarrassingly ill-conceived tangent — occupying some 20 percent of the film — in which Tom and Violet split up and the story meanders humorlessly while the audience waits impatiently for them to reunite and get it over with.
There are bright spots all over the place, though, enough to keep the film from being a total bust. Chris Pratt and Alison Brie shine as Tom’s best friend and Violet’s sister, respectively; Mimi Kennedy has a sharp scene as Tom’s truth-talking mother; Violet’s embittered mother (Jacki Weaver) is good for a couple laughs, as are her fellow grad students (Mindy Kaling, Randall Park, and Kevin Hart). Chris Parnell is here as a fellow emasculated grad-student-partner, padding out the number of NBC sitcom actors with roles in the film, which was produced by Universal, which owns NBC, yada yada.
The usual complaint about Judd Apatow-produced comedies is that they’re funny but too long — or, to put it another way, that they have too many extraneous scenes but we don’t mind much because they’re funny. “The Five-Year Engagement” demonstrates how that formula can go wrong: most of the non-essential material is mediocre at best, and there’s so much of it that it feels wearisome. The only reason I still wear a watch anymore is so I can check it repeatedly during endless comedies like this one.
C (2 hrs., 4 min.; )