DIRECTED BY NICHOLAS STOLLER
STARRING: JASON SEGEL, EMILY BLUNT, RHYS IFANS, CHRIS PRATT, ALISON BRIE, DAVID PAYMER, MIMI KENNEDY, KEVIN HART with DAKOTA JOHNSON and CHRIS PARNELL
Tom Solomon and Violet Barnes have a five-year long engagement before they break it off and go their separate ways. Their next one lasts for about an hour – five minutes on film. Too long, you say, are the five years they spend together. So long you actually feel the boredom; share the frustration. The next one blows past like a breeze, and you’re scrolling down title credits before you know you are.
The success of Nicholas Stoller’s ‘the Five-Year Engagement’ (and yes, it is successful as a movie-watching experience) lies in the fact that it shows the long and winding road. What limits its success is, perhaps, the fact that it shows too much of it. I watched the film in two separate sittings. One was before a late morning class. The other was today, a day after Christmas eve. The way it looks, it must have been strategic. Time-out from everyday life, I figured, could’ve made me as intolerant of the film as Tom and Violet were, at one point, of each other. Christmas break gave the right setting to set things right. And it added to the cheer to watch the film do the very same.
Tom is played by Jason Segel, a role that can very well have been written with him in mind. He’s a chef from San Francisco who can’t understand why there are other places in the world to go to with good old California back home. Violet, who’s played by Emily Blunt, is British and exists to take him away from there – as a person and as a contributor to the plotline. We ask ourselves why she must be British. We answer saying she needn’t. It’s not to Britain that she drags Tom to – it’s just Michigan, after all.
Violet had earned herself a post-doc in Psychology at the University of Michigan, under the guidance of Dr. Winton Jones (Rhys Ifans), an old Rooster who keeps at it with the crows because he’s still got game. He’s as comparable as he can be distinguished from the character played by Greg Kinnear in Amy Heckerling’s ‘Loser.’ He does nothing to earn your disrespect, and it’s a tad disappointing to see the film do nothing to vindicate him. Like the French cook in ‘Addicted to Love,’ for instance, who deserved his fate probably only because he was crystal-clear in a murky overall.
‘the Five-Year Engagement’ has its own share of dispensable characters as well – characters who can’t be this dispensable, if you think about it. Dr. Jones is just one of them. On Tom’s side, we have Audrey (Dakota Johnson), a “23-year old airhead, who probably doesn’t know who the fucking Beatles are.” Tom tells her he needs to go back and explore what he had with Violet when he has ‘the Talk’ with her. Audrey goes “Well, she’s an old bitch. There, I’ve explored her for you!”
I could see writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber smirking at that statement. We all know Audrey is makeshift for Tom. So is the professor, for Violet. That’s how Stoller designed it to be. Neustadter and Weber made no distinction between Summer and Autumn in ‘(500) Days of Summer,’ in spite of the fact that Summer came with a whole movie-load of the good stuff. Autumn would be the next movie, they’d say.
Stoller can be criticized on that count, but lauded on many – including the very same. Tom and Violet have something they haven’t got with any of those other people they’d go on to meet. They have five years of time invested. Five years that would turn six and not four. Violet, we hear, has been in a four-year relationship before. Gideon walks up to her at her Grandmother’s funeral and shows her “what four years look like.” The film is rich with such illustrative moments. To impact you, they require your support. And they earn that support with a draught of promise that asks you to not give up on these people. You find you won’t.
In its own line of defence, ‘the Five-Year Engagement’ is a ready bite taken into the stale doughnut of life that goes nowhere. You don’t have to find the right place to pull over and park. You don’t need the right van to get your wheels in motion. An old ambulance not beyond repair, you’ll find, would do just fine.