THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT is one of those rare romantic comedies that’s so terrific, you can’t help but completely ignore whatever genre it’s being labelled as and just let yourself go along for the ride. As Nicholas Stoller’s second writing and acting collaboration with the lovable Jason Segel – following Stoller’s debut feature, FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL – ENGAGEMENT shows a pair of artists whose comedic sensibilities are so finely attuned to one another that it’s almost remarkable how effortless it all seems. The result is one of the sweetest, smartest and most human “rom-coms” to come along in quite some time.
The casting here is absolutely perfect. Though Segel plays the same bumbling character that he always does, there’s no denying that he’s gotten pretty damned good at it, and if you’ve liked him in the past, you’re certainly going to here. Chris Pratt also gets his fair share of laughs, despite often coming across as a proxy for Paul Rudd – his expressions, his mannerisms and even his deliveries all feel like what you’d expect from a Rudd / Apatow pairing. But it’s the women who really steal the show: the gorgeous and hilarious Emily Blunt and Alison Brie give the film its heart, managing to keep the film fair and honest even when it becomes easier to choose one side of the plot’s core argument over the other. Plus, their Sesame Street scene together at the end of the film had me in absolute stitches.
One of the most impressive and enjoyable parts of the film is how Stoller manages to find the humor not just in what is happening on screen, but in the language of film itself. Often, the funniest moments of ENGAGEMENT are the beats between the scenes: the comedy of montage, the way a scene continues far past the point of necessity – all of it. It is not enough to make each individual scene funny through its content. It must be funny in its form, as well – a violation of expectations.
This film is long for its genre, but not detrimentally so; if you are familiar with the Apatow school of comedy, you should be expecting a two-hour-plus film, and ENGAGEMENT delivers that. But it serves a purpose, allowing Stoller to achieve something that few other comedy filmmakers (with the possible exception of the other comedians in Apatow’s camp) manage to: an aggressive search for truth. Whereas the quality of the majority of other comedies depends largely on how many jokes they can stuff into a scene, Stoller takes things a step further. Don’t get me wrong – there are jokes to be found here, and plenty of them, but the film isn’t content with settling for them.
Instead, Stoller gives us scenes that start and refuse to stop until he’s nailed some buried truth, often finding as much humor as realism in the process. The same can be said for the sequences, the acts and even the film as a whole: this stylistic choice of driving something into the ground until something funny, beautiful or real finally comes out applies to every aspect of Stoller’s films. Far after any other filmmaker would have cut the scene, having nailed every joke and hit every beat, Stoller keeps things going until something more comes out – something true. And as each scene acts as a microcosm for this approach, so too does the film itself.
Long past the point where any other filmmaker would have thrown their hands into the air and declared the plot finished, that this had gone on too long, that they finally needed to get to where they needed to go, ENGAGEMENT pushes things just a little bit further, finding something more worthy of our emotions – whether that be humor, sadness, joy or all of them mixed together. Stoller and Segel find something real, and that makes this one of the most successful romantic comedies in some time.