'The Five-Year Engagement' is a rom-com that gets it right

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“The Five Year Engagement” is that rare romantic comedy where the characters actually seem like real people. They make dumb mistakes and they interact with each other in a way that feels real, if a lot funnier than real life. The two leads manage to seem like two people who really would be in love.

The movie starts out with the beginning of the eponymous engagement. Jason Segel’s Tom proposes to Emily Blunt’s Violet, and the two begin planning their wedding. They have a picturesque engagement party. They look at venues. And then Violet, an academic, gets a job offer at the University of Michigan. This entails moving away from their home in San Francisco (anyone running a tourism-related business in San Fran should be writing a thank you note to the writers of this movie), and Segel giving up his career so that Blunt can try to be successful in hers.

It’s worth mentioning that the first hour or so of this movie is almost non-stop funny. The script, by Segel and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” director Nicholas Stoller, gives both leads the opportunity to shine. They’re a well-suited onscreen pair. Allison Brie and Chris Pratt take a break from their respective NBC sitcoms to provide a goofy mirror image of the main couple. Brie’s engagement toast alone is a masterpiece of overwrought emotion. And Pratt has pretty much cornered the market on funny idiots.

Then the movie gets dark. Much more so than I expected. Segel, used to being a chef in a fancy San Francisco eatery, has to climb quite a few steps lower on the culinary ladder to work in Ann Arbor. His descent into a bearded weirdo is gradual, funny, and then quite sad.

Though the poster and title emphasize the engagement aspect of the movie, it’s more about the sacrifices people make to stay together. The engagement serves as a sort of framing device for watching these two people try to work out what it means for them to have conflicting career interests and timelines. How long is it OK for one partner to give up his own aspirations?

The movie doesn’t have an easy answer. Nor should it. There’s no right answer to the question of whose career is more important. It would be easy to paint Blunt as the villain, since it’s her career that wins out for most of the movie, but Segel shares much of the blame for the troubles they encounter.

“Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” Segel’s first screenwriting endeavor, was a big success. It’s funny, but I always thought it made Sarah Marshall into a very distinct villain without much subtext, while also not giving his new love interest much personality. This new film denotes more of a willingness to share the screen with his costar. It’s an all-around more mature film. You’ll still find some of the Segel repertoire in there. Rest assured: you will once again see him naked. Actually, quite a bit. For someone who spends much of the movie in chilly Ann Arbor, he’s naked frequently.

As I said, the movie doesn’t really wrap up the issues the two have. I’m not even sure whether Blunt was still going to be at the University of Michigan at the end. That’s not really the point. Which is saying something! How many romantic comedies end with someone giving up their job? (“How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”, I’m looking at you.) Instead, the movie makes a convincing argument for not losing sight of why you considered giving up that job in the first place.

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