One of the few things more difficult than being married is getting married. It's all but impossible to have a wedding where everything goes just the way the bride, the groom, their respective families, and their many friends want. Add in the inevitable emotional ups and downs that are heaped upon a couple while they try to make it to the altar and it's a wonder anyone actually ends up hitched. The Five-Year Engagement is a romantic comedy that follows one couple as they take an agonizingly long time to move from agreeing to get married to finally saying "I do," and it's that rare rom-com in which the problems the couple face are actually similar to what folks deal with in the real world. It's honest and sweet, and at the same time it's uproariously funny -- a combination you don't often find in one package.
The Five-Year Engagement stars Jason Segel and Emily Blunt as Tom and Violet, a couple living in San Francisco. They meet cute on New Year's Eve, and one year to the day after they first saw one another, he proposes marriage. Violet eagerly accepts, and they begin making plans for their wedding and their future. However, fate throws a spanner into the works -- Violet was planning on getting her doctorate in psychology at Berkeley, but she's not admitted there, and after a number of rejections, she's finally accepted at the University of Michigan, some 2,300 miles away. Tom is initially happy for Violet, and he suggests they put the wedding planning on hold until they're settled into their new home in Ann Arbor and he finds a job, although some of their older relatives think they should get hitched right away. Tom's enthusiasm for their big adventure begins to cool when he learns he was up for a lucrative job at a new restaurant being opened by the same folks who run the eatery where he's a sous-chef, and he feels even worse when he ends up making sandwiches at an upscale deli in Michigan instead of running a kitchen. At the same time, Violet's academic career is a rousing success, and Winton (Rhys Ifans), the professor in charge of her project, invites her to stay on for a postdoctorate program. Violet accepts, but this sends Tom into a deeper spiral of depression, and when Violet decides to kick-start the wedding after discovering Winton is deeply attracted to her, it only ends up making matters worse.
The Five-Year Engagement was directed by Nicholas Stoller, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Jason Segel; it's the second time Stoller and Segel have collaborated together, and it's a significantly funnier and more emotionally satisfying picture than their first project, Forgetting Sarah Marshall. While the film's blend of heart and rude humor bears the trademark of producer Judd Apatow, the wit is just a bit more refined in The Five-Year Engagement (don't worry, there's still enough lowbrow gags to satisfy fans), and the chemistry between Segel and Blunt is surprisingly potent, with her British charm blending well with his slobby bonhomie (although he never once seems out of place in the Midwest -- in fact, it feels like his natural environment).
Stoller, Segel, and Blunt are also blessed with an excellent supporting cast, especially Chris Pratt and Alison Brie as Tom's slow-witted friend and Violet's sister, whose random hookup evolves into a happy marriage; Rhys Ifans as Violet's charismatic but slightly arrogant colleague; Brian Posehn and Chris Parnell as Tom's eccentric Ann Arbor buddies; and Mindy Kaling and Kevin Hart as two of Violet's more outspoken fellow grad students. The Five-Year Engagement is never short on laughs, but it also deals with the tough compromises and disappointments that are a part of a long-term relationship in a more realistic manner than the average Hollywood romance, and while the picture delivers a happy ending, Stoller and Segel aren't afraid to make both the audience and the characters work for it. The film's pacing becomes a bit erratic in the second act, and at a little over two hours the movie could stand to lose some flab. But The Five-Year Engagement is genuinely and consistently funny throughout, and even the moments that drag don't weigh it down; this is one of the most purely enjoyable romantic comedies to come down the pike in quite a while, and it's hard to imagine anyone who has ever struggled through the obstacles of trying to stay in love won't enjoy the film a great deal.