So, another week, and another Judd Apatow comedy — The Five-Year Engagement — rolls into town, and blah-de-blah-de-blah and yet more blah-de-blah-de-blah although the difference this time, which I feel honour-bound to mention, is that I totally loved it. I laughed. I cried (twice; properly). It is funny, even though no one falls on top of an expensive wedding cake or brings down a giant display of china in a department store. It has emotional heft, with no frantic, last-minute drives to the airport, just a male and female lead who not only share actual, proper, bona fide chemistry — hallelujah! Praise be!— but are also allowed to go head-to-head as equals.
I like romcoms, or at least the falling-in-love possibilities offered by them. This is not something I generally shout about, as it’s so often taken as an admission of morbid stupidity, but I do, and when a good one comes along, which is rare, I want to celebrate. I thought, in this instance, I’d even invite around my kooky girlfriends for a montage of trying on clothes, but then realised I don’t have girlfriends like that, just as nobody does.
Produced by Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek, etc.), this is directed by Nicholas Stoller (who worked on a lot of the same stuff) who, in turn, co- wrote it with Jason Segel (ditto; I can’t keep listing other films for ever), who also stars. Segel is Tom, a promising chef who, in the opening scene, is about to propose to his girlfriend, Violet (Emily Blunt), and even though his elaborate surprise is then ruined by a combination of his nervousness and her persistent questioning, they go ahead with the ‘surprise’ anyhow, and take as much delight in doing so as if it had all gone as planned. It is funny and sweet, establishing the pair’s true fondness for each other, and although all romcoms exist in a parallel universe of their own, following no known rules — that said, one day, I would like to try trying on clothes by montage, just to know how it feels — this at least has the feel of something that might happen, which may be all one can ask of films of this kind.
The gist of the story, as rather given away by the title, is this: Tom and Violet’s wedding is always imminent, but life keeps getting in the way, and they have to keep putting it off, which sounds lame — who cares? Book a flight to Las Vegas and be done with it, you nincompoops! — but is smartly handled. The biggest disruption comes when Violet, a research psychologist, accepts 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 is not happy in the icy Midwest. As Violet increasingly falls under the spell of her suspiciously charming professor (Rhys Ifans), Tom, a ‘faculty husband’, can only get a job in a sandwich bar. Eventually, and, I suppose, to reassert his masculinity, he takes to hunting, mutton-chop whiskers and drinking mead from deer hooves.
This is all served well by carefully portioned sight gags (a snowy footchase involving Mr Segel and Mr Ifans is sublime, slapstick heaven), some smart one-liners (Emily’s mother warns that marriage isn’t like every romantic movie you’ve ever seen: ‘It’s more like Saving Private Ryan. Or Philadelphia’) and a supporting cast that includes Chris Pratt as Tom’s best-buddy bromance and Alison Brie as Emily’s astonishingly fertile sister, Suzie. But mostly this succeeds because it is not afraid of emotional complexity — how do you live with a depressed spouse? — and because Segel and Blunt have such an easy, natural way of being together that, even though the endings of films like this are never in doubt — can you imagine if they were? The whole genre would be blown out of the water! — you can’t help rooting for them to work it out, and genuinely feeling sad when it looks like they might not. I should also add that while Ms Blunt’s talent is taken as a given, Mr Segel, whom I had previously dismissed as just a big-lug, is absolutely capable of playing someone vulnerable; someone with a reservoir of sadness in there somewhere.
OK, I may be going overboard here in my excitement, and the film is not without its difficulties. It is overlong, for example, and baggy in places, but I’m going to stick to my guns and say it’s still the best romcom to come along in a good while, and I do want to celebrate. Perhaps if I can’t find any kooky girlfriends to come over for a montage of trying on clothes, we could jump all over the bed while lip synching pop songs into hairbrushes? Worth a try, I suppose.