Humor and exasperation mix as an engagement becomes a years-long affair.
Like a delectable meal that goes on too long, "The Five-Year Engagement" continues past gratification to overindulgence. It's a very good movie. If a tough editor trimmed it from 124 minutes to 90, it would be wonderful.
One of the main reasons why Judd Apatow has become a brand name in entertainment is that he produces movies that are very, very funny while featuring characters that resemble regular human beings.
His latest production, starring Jason Segel and Emily Blunt, concerns two imperfect, exasperating, well intentioned ordinary people who trip themselves up on a daily basis. They're a lot like what most of us see in the mirror, only with better dialogue. They are disarming precisely because they weren't designed to be likable. They are sympathetic despite their foibles, like most of our friends.
In "The Five-Year Engagement," Segel plays Tom, a cuddly, talented assistant chef at a swank San Francisco restaurant. He's had quite a run of romantic luck -- the film slyly implies that a heterosexual guy there can have a Hefnerian love life even if he looks like Jason Segel.
All that is behind him, though, because he has met his one true love. Blunt plays Violet, an English psychology grad with ambitions for post-doctoral work, a faculty position and tons of kids. They're sweet together and -- despite minor skirmishes with the prospective in-laws -- eager for their impending marriage.
As the big day approaches, however, life becomes a series of hurdles, distractions and delays. Violet gets a great academic offer from the University of Michigan, where she does research on impulse control and doughnuts.
Supportive Tom puts his promising culinary career on hold to work the counter at an Ann Arbor deli (in a nice touch, it's Zingerman's, the best nosh in the Midwest). Violet blooms under the guidance of her congenial mentor (Rhys Ifans). Tom swallows his disappointment with life in this snowbound limbo.
Seasons pass, years pass, Tom and Violet enter an unexpected cooling-off period, and so does the film. Tom takes up hunting with a faculty husband (Chris Parnell of "SNL"), yielding several brilliantly executed sight gags that have a horrifying fascination. As his self-esteem deflates, he finds himself literally turning into another person, adapting to his new location by morphing into a poor man's Grizzly Adams. Violet senses his unspoken bitterness and seeks consolation from a male colleague.
There's humor in every beat of the story, and the laughs come from the characters' humanity, not camp comedy. When they're clingy or childish or guilty, they see the humor in their situation, and in themselves. When the threats to their relationship take a serious turn, the peril feels earned.
"The Five-Year Engagement" is vastly more ambitious than -- and superior to -- the star-stuffed romantic ensemble comedies that shtickmeister Garry Marshall has been turning out. It's chockablock with inventive humor and sharply drawn secondary characters (the strong cast includes Kevin Hart, Alison Brie and Chris Pratt), yet it feels as if stretches are unfolding in real time. By going big, director Nicholas Stoller ("Forgetting Sarah Marshall") aims to make the film larger and deeper. At times it's just longer.