REVIEW: A warm-hearted look at what happens when a storybook romance hits a speed bump, "The Five-Year Engagement" originates with a pre-mythologized meet-cute and ends with Hollywood whimsy but insists on making the hurdles between as little like rom-com contrivance as the filmmakers can get away with. Much more successful than Stoller's solo outing, "Get Him to the Greek," this latest collaboration for director Nicholas Stoller and co-screenwriter/star Jason Segel never hits the peaks of laughter "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" achieved but will please the team's fans while -- no penises here -- appealing to a more conservative crowd as well.
Segel and Emily Blunt play Tom and Violet, who met at a New Year's costume party (he dressed as a bunny, as if the big lug weren't cuddly enough) and were smitten by midnight. We hear the story multiple times, as they tell it to themselves and others, but when we meet them, they're already in the real world -- where elaborately constructed wedding proposals fall apart and, if they're not careful, a happy couple's engagement party might be upstaged by romance among the celebrants.
Their wedding is postponed when Violet gets a postdoc job in Michigan, forcing a two-year relocation from lovely San Francisco, where Tom had been in line for a prestigious head-chef gig. Although willing to take one for the team, Tom suffers in the icy Midwest, devolving into a careerless mountain man just a step removed from another pathetic "faculty spouse" played by Chris Parnell.
Meanwhile, Tom's old cooking pal Alex (Chris Pratt), set up by the script as a culinary Falstaff, becomes a family man. Pratt, who steals his first scenes and promises more fun to come, trades his dunce cap for fatherhood and leaves Segel hanging -- a scenario that will ring true for many men of a certain age in the audience. As Tom falls into a rabbit hole, Violet grows more engaged with colleagues -- Mindy Kaling is underused here, but Rhys Ifans, as the group's charismatic leader, is perfectly cast.
Like producer Judd Apatow's own "Funny People," "Engagement" isn't afraid of running longer than viewers expect of a romantic comedy. But unlike that (underrated) film, no one can accuse "Engagement" of jumping narrative horses midstream: Stoller and Segel make the audience feel the grind of this pause in the couple's plans. They keep the comic vibe afloat with occasional false-start wedding attempts, but by the time the Michigan stay is extended, the trouble this couple is in bears little resemblance to the usual rom-com hiccups.
"The Five-Year Engagement" winds up promoting a romantic ideal that, while still wrapped in Hollywood's ribbons, feels a bit more like something viewers might see in their own lives -- whether they're lucky enough to have their first kiss accompanied by New Year's fireworks or not.