The last time Nicholas Stoller directed his writing partner Jason Segel, in the hilariously raunchy "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," he famously cajoled Segel to bare his genitalia.
In their latest collaboration, the scathingly funny and surprisingly tender "The Five-Year Engagement," Segel exposes something else his romantic heart.
Segel and Emily Blunt play Tom and Violet, a sweet San Francisco couple whom we meet on New Year's Eve exactly one year after they met. On this New Year's Eve, Tom arranges an elaborate scenario in order to propose to Violet; things don't unfold as they should, which makes the moment funnier and more human.
That's the way the whole movie proceeds, mixing humor and warmth, as Tom's and Violet's lives don't go according to plan.
Tom is a sous chef in a high-end San Francisco restaurant, in line to run his own eatery. Violet is doing post-doctorate work in psychology and applying for research posts at colleges all over. Then Violet gets a job at the University of Michigan, and Tom agrees to move there with her.
In Ann Arbor, Violet thrives with other grad students under the direction of the ultra-hip Prof. Winston Grimes (Rhys Ifans). Tom discovers that restaurants aren't hiring, and he ends up making sandwiches in a funky off-campus deli and spending off-hours with an emasculated house-husband (Chris Parnell). Meanwhile, Tom and Violet put their wedding plans on hold, to the consternation of their parents and a rapidly dwindling pool of grandparents along with Tom's dim-bulb pal Alex (Chris Pratt) and Violet's uptight sister Suzie ("Community's" Alison Brie, rocking an English accent), who end up in a relationship that moves at a much faster pace.
Where most romantic comedies deal with how the two people start their relationship, "The Five-Year Engagement" takes a risk by examining a relationship already in progress. It honestly, albeit hilariously, tracks the ups and downs, the sacrifices and their attendant resentments, and the hard work that sometimes goes into maintaining the spark of love. Segel always brings the comedy, and his transformation from lovable San Francisco goofball to sad-sack Michigan loser produces plenty of laughs. Blunt, her comedy bona fides secure since "The Devil Wears Prada," loosens up marvelously to make Violet a character who's flawed and funny.
The movie also gathers a swarm of comic all-stars to the supporting roles, including comics Kevin Hart and Brian Posehn, "The Office's" Mindy Kaling, and veterans Mimi Kennedy and David Paymer (as Tom's parents) along with a surprise cameo or two.
"The Five-Year Engagement" doesn't succeed on its comic chops alone, though. It scores because Stoller and Segel know the real comedy of life comes from those moments when real life intrudes on our carefully organized plans.
'The Five-Year Engagement'
Life takes funny, and touching, turns for a couple in this romantic comedy from the guys who made "Forgetting Sarah Marshall."
Where • Opens Friday, April 27.
When • Theaters everywhere.
Rating • R for sexual content, and language throughout.
Running time • 124 minutes.