The Five-Year Engagement (Nicholas Stoller, 2012)

Genre conventions are met with serendipitous ease in Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segal’s follow-up to Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Time has looked on the duo’s debut pairing favorably, though Stoller’s sophomore effort, the Jonah Hill/Russell Brand vehicle, is best left unmentioned. With The Five-Year Engagement, Stoller and Segal build on the momentum of Forgetting Sarah Marshal and their writing credits in The Muppets to flesh out a particularly interesting romantic comedy that subscribes to genre tropes while adding a layer of insight to the proceedings that really make the film all its own.

The straightforward narrative plotting and structure of The Five-Year Engagement won’t throw anyone for a loop – it’s a film very much defined by its predecessors in the manner in which events happen. But Jason Segal is a truly an ideal leading man for these sort of romantic comedies. He functions as an antidote to the male bravado exhibited by so many Apatow leading men, wherein masculinity seems to be shaped by demonstrating dominance over female co-stars. It’s something I touched upon in last week’s Thursday Ten, and something I see purposefully subverted in The Five-Year Engagement. Segal’s doughy features aid him in expressing a sense of vulnerability. The crassness certainly dialed down as well, where the writing relishes in the opportunity to subvert masculine and feminine expectations. A scene of particular note involves Segal and Emily Blunt in a bedroom, where Segal’s character expresses discontent over their living situation, asking to be left alone. But as Blunt prepares to leave the room, Segal’s fickleness comes into play, where he really can’t embrace the prospect of being left alone in the bedroom. It’s a delightful little sequence that really exhibits Segal’s ability as a leading man and a writer.

What sets The Five-Year Engagement apart from most romantic comedies is its observations on the workplace and the strain it can cause in a relationship. It’s particularly interesting to see how each character’s identity really depends on their profession, with Segal playing the role of a chef while Blunt delves into the world of academia. And as Blunt’s character becomes more entrenched in her profession, Segal’s character begins to lose sight of his own aspirations. It’s a complex web that Stoller and Segal weave for these characters, where a professional identity has to be reconciled with personal relationships.

As with most Apatow outings, The Five-Year Engagement runs out of gas in its closing act, wherein the material begins to revert. While the picture obviously depends on romantic comedy archetypes, it’s more astute observations led me to believe that it might have rejected expectations and reexamined its tired conclusion. Despite its thrown together conclusion, the picture works on the basis of its likability factor – the people involved are just so generally agreeable that it’s hard to find any fault in what they’re doing.

Rating: 7/10