There are risks when romantic comedy is injected with "truth." Too little, and it feels like a desperate attempt to give the film credibility. Too much and it starts to feel uncomfortable as the comedy is buried in what appear to be a string of life lessons. The Five-Year Engagement tries to find a balance between comedy and truth and after a bit over two hours, almost succeeds.
That's not to say the film is bad. It's far from it, especially compared to what usually passes for a romantic comedy these days. Its leads (Emily Blunt and Jason Segel) have a surprising, easy chemistry and director Nicholas Stoller (who co-wrote with Segel) uses the talented supporting cast to add new perspective and layers to what is a pretty straightforward story.
Violet (Blunt) is a post-doctorate student. Tom (Segel) is a rising star of a chef in San Francisco. They get engaged on their first anniversary and while most romantic comedies would end here, The Five-Year Engagement does something that romantic comedies fail to do - showing what happens after the "happy ending." In doing so, we get to see every crack, seam and bump in their relationship, from Tom's resentment at leaving his dream job behind to follow Violet after she receives a fellowship at the University of Michigan, to Violet's increasing frustration at how Tom changes during his relocation.
It's a credit to Segel and Stoller that the situations that arise do so organically and don't feel forced in for shock value, and when things start to deteroriate, we not only see it coming, we solemnly nod because it is inevitable.
The film has issues, though, and they almost capsize the film. The most glaring one is the running time. The film clocks in at a bit over two hours, and you feel every grueling minute of it. The pacing and editing are a near disaster and at times, watching feels more like a chore than a good time. This is partially because the film, while billed as a romantic comedy, is only funny in spurts. The serious 'truths' of being in a relationship take center stage, which is in itself not a bad thing, but in a comedy, it really drags the film down.
The ending is typical rom-com schmaltz, though, as if the filmmakers snapped out of their malaise, thought "hey, aren't we making a comedy?" and wisely ended the film on an acceptably quirky note.
In the end, The Five-Year Engagement is serviceable entertainment, but could have been a lot more had they been able to strike the delicate balance they were trying for.