More honesty, but perhaps less hilarity
‘The Five-Year Engagement’
Starring: Jason Segel, Emily Blunt
Director: Nick Stoller
This second collaboration between director Nick Stoller and the writer and star of this, Jason Segel, is not as riotous as their first film, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” but it has surprising depth and, dare it be said, maturity, in its exploration of a relationship that just can’t find a flight path.
Tom (Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt) meet cute at a New Year’s Eve party, and it’s almost love at first sight. He’s a sous chef in a trendy San Francisco restaurant and she’s applying to grad schools to finish her postdoc work in psychology. A year into the relationship, Tom proposes, but then Violet is accepted to Michigan, so they put the wedding on hold and move to Ann Arbor.
Reduced to working in a deli while Violet charms her professor (Rhys Ifans), Tom has only another faculty spouse (Chris Parnell) for company. Two years turns into eternity when Violet is extended a job opportunity, leaving the couple in limbo about their future together.
Executive producer Judd Apatow is a wizard at turning the conventional into something un. So while this rom-com narrowly fits the genre, there are enough bumps and potholes along the way to leave you wondering if these two will really end up together. The story wobbles along like one of those round-bottom toys without feet. To and fro Tom and Violet reel as they continue to put off their nuptials and redefine themselves as individuals and as a couple.
Some scenes stand out for their sheer un-comedy trajectory such as when Violet and Tom argue over staying in their Mid-West outpost rather than return to balmy San Francisco. The conversation rings with honesty and frankness. A tinge of humor provides the needed levity, but what’s there is a lesson in how adults should really express their feelings, something that almost never happens in movies like this.
The more ribald stuff is left to Chris Pratt and Alison Brie as Tom’s chef buddy and Violet’s sister. These two speed date and marry while the other couple is humming “Que Sera Sera.” Pratt especially is more of frat boy than a husband and father, so if he can do it, why can’t Tom? Brie of “Mad Men” is kind of a whack job, but motherhood helps her evolve enough to counsel Violet on her faltering relationship. Both of them are shameless scene-stealers, leaving the heavier lifting to the leads.
Timing out a little over two hours, Segel and Stoller should have trimmed this down. There are too many re-visits to that fateful New Year’s Eve when Violet, dressed as Princess Di, meets Tom, inexplicably dressed as a giant pink bunny. It’s sweet the first time, and maybe even the second. By the fourth time I silently screamed, “Enough already.”
Blunt and Segel both have an easy, natural screen presence, making the romance believable. Only in the final minutes does it get too rom-com cute, but by then you know it’s going to happen. One odd note: The latest employment gambit for Hollywood screenplays seems to be the ubiquitous food truck. This is the second movie I’ve seen in just as many weeks where one of the characters starts slinging tacos from a slide window.
One of the hottest tickets on Broadway right now is Mike Nichols’ revival of “Death of a Salesman,” but you didn’t have to go that far to see an Arthur Miller play when Beaumont Community Players staged “A View from the Bridge” recently. Good drama never goes out of style, and this production was blessed with a strong cast under the direction of Gina Hinson, a frequent BCP contributor. New to the local scene is Michael Mason, who played Eddie Carbone, the Italian longshoreman whose obsession with his niece Katharine, played by Laura Mackan, drives him into a state of reasoned madness. The character of Carbone is one of Miller’s great tragic everyman protagonists — a challenging role for any actor, and Mason earned the standing ovation he received. Rounding out the cast were Rachel Cain, Robert Fong, Michael Saar and Ben Blanchard. With “Pirates of Penzance” closing out the season for the local troupe in a few short weeks, this has already been a stellar year for BCP.