26 June 2012

THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT- Review

Although she must now be on the verge of becoming a household name, it seems strange that Emily Blunt isn't yet a superstar. Sometimes, it's fun to imagine what would have happened if she hadn't dropped out of the role of Black Widow in the Marvel movie universe, but then we definitely wouldn't have had her recent succession of strong, extremely likeable performances in films like The Adjustment Bureau and, now, The Five-Year Engagement.

As with The Adjustment Bureau, the film hinges on her chemistry with a love interest- in this case, she's reteaming with Jason Segel, after the godawful Gulliver's Travels and a cameo in The Muppets. Segel and Blunt play Tom and Violet, a couple who get engaged after a blissful year of romance. Violet is less sure about marriage when she misses out on an academic post at the University of Berkeley, but gets a second chance when she's offered a similar job in Michigan. This means that the couple have to move away, just one obstacle on a road that turns out to be much longer than either of them had expected.

It just so happens that The Five-Year Engagement is a comedy produced by Judd Apatow, which comes with some of the same problems that have bothered me in other films from that stable. The process of allowing the actors to improvise around their characters and the script tends to wield mixed results, and almost always leads to films that run about 20 minutes too long in the second act. At the same time, what set this one apart from other Apatow films is the way in which it completely won me over from the first scene.

With all of the pre-amble about Emily Blunt, I make no secret of the fact that she's one of my favourite actresses, because her ability to build chemistry with just about anyone is constantly surprising to me. I maintain that her pairing with Matt Damon in The Adjustment Bureau was perfect casting, but she manages to get along with Segel just as well, even though it doesn't feel like as much of a two-way street. From the opening proposal scene, which is happily a lot more adorable than it is cringe-worthy, I found myself rooting for this couple, even though Tom's character arc becomes a little more contrived later on.

That's kind of where you see the improvised bits coming in. Although Segel co-wrote the script, Tom's spiralling madness and depression in the second act meanders in a way that I struggle to believe would pass muster on the page. His two friends in Michigan, played by Chris Parnell and Brian Posehn, are more funny than merely wacky, but they still feel like distractions from the winning central pairing. For the most part though, this is the type of indulgence you see in The 40 Year Old Virgin, which gives you a strong character and motivation to get behind first, and then meanders into ad-libbing, as opposed to the over-stacked structure of both Funny People and the hugely overrated Bridesmaids.

The last couple of times that director Nicholas Stoller and Segel have co-written something, they've been fortunate enough to pull together a mix of the Apatow troupe, some of whom have been around since Freaks & Geeks, and actors who are blowing up and doing their own thing elsewhere. This one has great supporting turns from Jacki Weaver, who plays a very different mum from her unforgettable character in Animal Kingdom, and Rhys Ifans as Violet's lecherous boss. But it's Chris Pratt and Alison Brie who steal the show, as Tom's best mate and Violet's sister, who wind up revelling in familial bliss a lot faster than our heroes, to great comic effect throughout.

Even when The Five-Year Engagement isn't bringing the belly laughs, (and it is pretty consistently funny) it's also a terrific romantic comedy with sympathetic characters. It's only because of the quality of the script, and the efforts of the cast, that it still snaps back to sympathy after the customary detours into improvisation and patchwork editing that comes with the Judd Apatow mode of production. Emily Blunt makes a convincing argument for why she should really be an A-lister by now, and there's also plenty of scope for other up-and-comers, like Brie and Pratt, to make their mark.

The Five-Year Engagement is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
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If you've seen The Five-Year Engagement, why not share your comments below? And let me know if you think there's a single funnier scene than when two of the funniest, most gorgeous comedy actresses around start doing Muppet voices. Cos you're wrong.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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