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‘Five-Year Engagement’ is rarely funny, often frustrating

By A Contributor

The movie studios seem to be sloughing off their disappointments this time of year, the tactless “Five-Year Engagement” being one of them. The movie has some talented performers in it and its set of makers includes some of the folks who brought us “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” which it resembles vaguely.

But “Engagement’s” script relies on a mix of dumb jokes—pink bunny costumes and coarseness—and stuff so wry one could almost believe the cast made it up without much thought. Dull, dull, dull. On the rare occasions that the movie is funny, it is because Chris Pratt sings a song and carries it on his own or because Alison Brie, playing his wife, breaks into tears with insufficient reason.

The cast includes Emily Blunt, who played Meryl Streep’s secretary in “The Devil Wore Pravda” and the queen in “The Young Victoria,” and Rhys Ifans, who stole “Notting Hill” while playing Hugh Grant’s roommate and “The Replacements” playing a football place kicker. Blunt is charming in her part as an academic psychologist, Violet, engaged to marry cook Tom (Jason Segel). Ifans is playing a Michigan Psychology professor who becomes a moral lizard so quickly that even he cannot soften the sound of the clang.

The movie isn’t very funny, then, and its good actors can’t seem to save it. Perhaps part of the problem here is that the film also has an on-going dramatic concern that it keeps alive artificially. Violet asks Tom to go with her from San Francisco to Ann Arbor while she takes two years of post doctoral work. He doesn’t adjust very well to being the drag along spouse, this one not even married yet.

This is a real problem for a lot of professional people, of course. The movie allows Tom to make some accommodations, taking a job at a deli (though he thinks he’s too good for that) and picking up some local pastimes, like deer hunting.

Then Violet’s term is extended and without much discussion she decides to stay, dooming Tom to a couple more years of snow. When they finally decide to go ahead and get married anyway, which anyone else would have done two reels earlier, the confession of a drunken kiss and the yee-haw nature of those good-old-boys at U of M lead to a major time out.

And here we’ve come to the next to last of “The Five-Year Engagement’s” several major weaknesses: it hates the upper midwest and isn’t shy about admitting this. Ann Arbor is the small town boonies to the movie’s writers. Who would want to live there when they could live in San Francisco? The movie seems to believe we’d all go along with that sentiment.

I wouldn’t. I suspect millions wouldn’t. I’m trying to think of somewhere in the U.S. I’d less like to live than San Francisco and am having some trouble. Though this is only tangentially related, I’ve read that California is currently suffering the biggest decline of population of the states (which is something given what’s happened to Detroit). Ironically North Dakota is the big gainer, and UND comes in for dismissal in the last half of this film.

By deciding early on that no one would go to a college town in the upper midwest when they could live in Oakland, the movie makes enemies real quick. Even those without a dog in the fight may wonder how the idiots writing the script can have allowed themselves to get into this kind of trouble, especially as there are lots of ways to accomplish the little that they seem to have wanted to do by setting up the geographic comparison.

And then we have the coups de grace: the story doesn’t resolve its central problem at the end. But it does resolve a secondary problem, the difficulty the couple has had planning their wedding. O.K. I guess we have to give these bay area geniuses credit for that: they resolve a secondary problem by the end of this frustrating movie.

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