Jason Segel is the most unlikely of romantic comedy heroes. He’s goofy, lanky, not unhandsome but not exactly traditional dreamboat material. As a performer, he does not waste energy cultivating dignity. (Exhibit A: the excruciating nude break-up scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshall; Exhibit B: his doomed declaration of love to Linda Cardellini to the tune of Styx’s Lady in Freaks and Geeks). He’s the perfect actor to star as a Muppet’s big brother. He is adept at physical and cerebral comedy and still somehow vulnerable and appealing enough to warrant leading man status. He’s a contradiction, but he works.
He also has a way with words. Segel co-wrote The Five-Year Engagement with director Nicholas Stoller; the pair worked together previously on The Muppets and the Segel-penned Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and they’re a great team. Engagement’s sense of humor is along the same lines as it was in Sarah Marshall: often crude but clever and only occasionally gross. Stoller also wrote and directed Get Him to the Greek, so here’s something else to be happy about: Russell Brand doesn’t make an appearance.
The best aspect of The Five-Year Engagement, about a couple (Segel and Emily Blunt) who keep postponing their wedding, is that it manages to accomplish both crucial tasks of the rom com: It makes you laugh and eagerly wish for a happy ending without any preachy soul-searching. As a bonus, it’s got a Van Morrison-friendly soundtrack, and the trailers haven’t revealed the best parts.
Segel plays Tom, a sous chef at a classy San Francisco restaurant where he works with his best friend Alex (Chris Pratt, doing a variation of his likable numbskull from Parks and Recreation and damn near stealing the entire movie, which is no easy feat). Tom loves Violet (Blunt, who’s also funny) so much that when she gets a job offer for a teaching position at the University of Michigan, he happily offers to move across the country for her. Violet senses this decision could cause problems but knows the job presents the opportunity of a lifetime. So they head off for snowy Ann Arbor, where their relationship immediately begins to fall apart. Her career as a psychology professor blossoms under the tutelage of a fabulously hip, attractive professor (Rhys Ifans; yes, I know that sounds odd) and interesting colleagues (Mindy Kaling, Kevin Hart and Randall Park), while Tom ends up making sandwiches with weirdos in a funky but hardly swank deli.
Like other comedies that involve Judd Apatow in some way (he co-produced here), The Five-Year Engagement feels a bit long; it probably doesn’t need all of its two-hour-plus running time and could have been pared down easily enough. And yet the payoff feels all the sweeter for all troubles Tom and Violet have been through. “Sweet” is a strange word to apply to a movie in which someone mimes masturbation with a carrot, and yet it’s appropriate. Once again, happily, contradictions work.
Cast: Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, Rhys Ifans, Mindy Kaling, Kevin Hart, Randall Park.
Director: Nicholas Stoller.
Screenwriters: Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller.
Producers: Judd Apatow, Rodney Rothman, Nicholas Stoller.
A Universal Pictures release. Running time: 124 minutes. Sexual content, language. Opens Friday April 27 at area theaters.