I’m starting to find the presence of Judd Apatow almost annoying. He’s taking up all the air in the room. No, what I’m really annoyed by is that he’s creeping up on my ideas and it burns me. I had this idea of a rom-com trilogy where you’d see the various stages of relationships and I saw a preview for This Is 40 (2012) which is a (how did they say it?) semi-sequel to Knocked Up (2007). NOOO!!! I guess I could think of it as encouraging. But I don’t.
Tom (Jason Segel) has been with Violet (Emily Blunt) for a year when he proposes. He’s a chef and she’s an academic psychologist. What I thought was his brother, Alex (Chris Pratt) is a bit a dufus and so is Violets (actual) sister, Suzie (Alison Brie). They’re all in the Bay Area and Violet’s dream job is at Berkley. That doesn’t happen, but she does get a post-doc position at U Michigan under Prof. Winton Childs (Rhys Ifans). Well, they’re in a good place and it’ll only take two years, so they go to Michigan. Ann Arbor, apparently, is not a good place for chefs for some reason. He goes a little feral. Well, two years turns into more than that and the relationship starts going down hill. What will happen next?
The Five-Year Engagement (2012) really walked the line between the silly (like The Office) and the sincere (like The Break-Up (2006)). That’s not a typical formula for success, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, but it didn’t ruin the movie. I think it’s because nobody was wholly serious at any one time. If they did have one of those dark, honest moments devoid of any levity that it would have cracked the universe apart.
The message of the movie is made quite clearly, but the structure they choose for describing it is imperfect. Jason Segel co-wrote this with director Nicholas Stoller. Segel has clearly gone through a break-up. We saw that in the absolutely wonderful Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) (same duo). Well he brings it back for this film and elaborates on it with a more mature, though equally pathetic (and so real), rationale for breaking up.
The problem is that the film feels like it’s in denouement when it really isn’t. That’s tantamount to a spoiler, but did you really expect anything different? What they should have done, probably, is shaved off some time from the first phase of the story and added more bridges in the second phase so that the third phase could lumber under the montages and vignettes. All three phases needed to be there for this to be the movie they wanted, but the balance was a little off.
For all of that, I enjoyed the movie a great deal. The dialogue was very funny throughout. The story was very strong, though I think they were less fair to Violet than they should have been. There wasn’t much balance for them sympathetically. Even so, from one perspective it was quite real–it’s the other perspective that needed some bulking up.
The performances from Segel and Blunt were as strong as you’d expect. Segel clearly knows (probably is) this character and Blunt is an actress. Segel as chick-magnet is a little hard to believe, but this is Hollywood. Again, I think they could have bulked up Blunt’s character and given her some more opportunities to act, but that’s not really her fault. She takes what she’s given.
The movie features an almost uniformly Van Morrison soundtrack. For reasons that escape me, they use as many covers as originals. Still, I love the idea of uniform soundtracks. But because I can’t praise anything wholeheartedly, I will say that Van Morrison doesn’t exactly match the movie. The couple’s song–“their song”–works very very well, but the others less so. At least they didn’t use Moondance (overused).
This wasn’t an unmitigated success, but it’s a solid movie about some relationship realities. It comes to the kind of conclusion that is laudable, but sometimes loses confidence in the audience to see it. Solid effort.