Wednesday, April 25, 2012 | 5:57 p.m.
The team behind Forgetting Sarah Marshall—director/co-writer Nicholas Stoller, co-writer/star Jason Segel and producer Judd Apatow—is back together for The Five-Year Engagement, a more subdued but still satisfying romantic comedy about a couple (played by Segel and Emily Blunt) who can’t quite line up their life plans with their wedding plans. After gleefully getting engaged on their one-year anniversary, chef Tom (Segel) and psychology grad student Violet (Blunt) soon find themselves torn in opposite directions, as Violet gets a post-doctoral fellowship in Michigan, while Tom wants to stick with his restaurant job in San Francisco.
When Tom compromises and the couple heads to the Midwest, it’s not hard to see where things will go: At first supportive, Tom becomes increasingly unhappy, while Violet finds herself tempted by the charms of her suave boss (Rhys Ifans). Although the movie follows a predictable pattern right through to its happy ending, it’s helped by two main characters who feel like real people in love, with real problems that don’t have easy solutions. As they did in Sarah Marshall, Stoller and Segel spend significant time developing both sides of the relationship; this is as much Violet’s story as it is Tom’s. And sure, there are still plenty of dick jokes, but they’re classier dick jokes, rooted in the way couples kid around with each other—and the way that the joking can easily turn cutting and mean.
Like most Apatow productions, Engagement goes on a little longer than it should (a movie like this should not run past two hours), and the ending sweeps most of Tom and Violet’s difficult problems under the rug for the sake of a sunny resolution. It’s easy to forgive that cop-out, because Tom and Violet are two people you want to see together: They’re funny and smart and genuinely caring, not just vehicles for dumb jokes and contrived misunderstandings. It’s hard to argue that Stoller and Segel are maturing when one of the movie’s running gags involves the phrase “baby dick,” but they’re at least headed in the right direction.