The whole ‘Apatow’ genre should seem played out at this point. Almost seven years after The Forty-Year-Old Virgin changed the landscape of the Hollywood comedy, the alpha-producer has pushed around a dozen grown-up comedies with actual heft to their story through the studios. By now, you’d think they were getting old.
So is The Five-Year Engagement, produced by Apatow and with involvement from his frequent collaborators Jason Segal and Nicholas Stoller, wearing the formula down? Fortunately, not at all.
Segal, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Stoller, stars as Tom. He’s one half of an engaged couple, and the movie begins with him popping the question in San Francisco. The other half, Violet (Emily Blunt), catches her big break shortly after becoming a fiance when she gets into Grad School at the University of Michigan. Tom, a great guy, drops his job as a promising Chef to move with her without hesitation. Separated from their friends, the couple experience problems they didn’t expect while trying to reconfigure their lives around each other.
Like many other Apatow movies, The Five-Year Engagement appears to be comprised of a lot of improvised material. That’s usually a plus – in the hands of a strong cast that includes Parks and Recreation‘s Chris Pratt and Community‘s Alison Brie, it gives the movie’s characters a chance to breath and feel less fabricated. But on a few occasions, its obvious Stoller is letting some sub-par material into a final cut that it shouldn’t have escaped the cutting room floor.
What defines The Five-Year Engagement is that it’s a very funny movie that doesn’t forget where it’s heart is. The story is king here – even though the laughs are good and plenty, they always take a definite backseat to the drama of Tom and Violet maintaining their relationship.
… well, almost. The film loses points for a particularly rough patch at the beginning of its second half. Tom, having spent years in the wilderness of Up North, starts to lose it. This is shown by Tom growing an unacceptably silly mustache, and leaving crossbows around the house, and lucidly watching cat videos. What was a realistic person becomes a cartoon, all for the very clear purpose of giving the Violet an obvious reason to grow impatient with Tom.
But that’s just one weak, clichéd fault in the film. Even though the rest of the film is fairly formulaic, it deserves credit for always feeling like it’s in a completely different league from like romantic comedies.
Maybe its been a while since one of Apatow’s movies have felt like something new, the way The 40-Year-Old Virgin rewrote the sex comedy into something you could watch and talk about with your parents, but the quality has yet to drop off. Even if The Five-Year Engagement might be another in a series of similar comedies, it has a sincerity and quality that keeps it from feeling like a repeat.