'The Five-Year Engagement' review: Funny, sweet and, yes, too long

*** (out of four)

Fear not, fans of Jason Segel’s proudly non-muscular flesh. His full-frontal scene may have been cut from “The Five-Year Engagement,” but a few shots of his backside remain. Eat your heart out, Clooney.

As in the other romantic comedy he wrote, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” Segel (who penned “Engagement” with director Nicholas Stoller) fills the movie with vulnerability that’s hard not to love. He’s cinema’s leading everyman, who can instill goofy, unselfconscious poise to a man dressed as “Super Bunny”--a giant pink rabbit outfit customized for a “Create Your Own Superhero” New Year’s Eve bash.

At that party Tom (Segel) meets Violet (Segel's "Muppets" and "Gulliver's Travels" co-star Emily Blunt), a lovely Brit dressed as Princess Diana. They click immediately, and their grins suggest they know from the start this won’t be a one-night connection. A year later the couple’s engaged and excited to officially begin their life together. Until life gets in the way.

There’s a sudden, unexpected wrinkle involving Tom’s reckless pal (Chris Pratt) and Violet’s sister (Alison Brie, even more charming with a British accent), and Violet’s acceptance to a University of Michigan psychology doctorate program that really puts the plans on hold. If there’s a hole in the center of “The Five-Year Engagement,” it’s the period during which the couple vaguely drifts apart and then abruptly turns Tom into a grizzled shadow of himself. Surely, though, they’re not the first to let busy/new schedules take precedence over emotional priorities.

At more than two hours, “The Five-Year Engagement” bears the mark of other Judd Apatow-produced films in its shambling, eager-to-please pacing, and the film owes more to cleverly silly screenwriting than the fresh, vividly personal touch that made “Sarah Marshall” so endearingly off-balance. When “Engagement” gets weird, it derails. No big deal. Segel again harnesses natural awkwardness for maximum comic effect, with particular savvy toward the rhythms of real-life arguments between people who normally get along. The unhappy tension felt during a party that’s supposed to be joyous fires a precise, anguished strike to the heart.

Regardless, nobody will miss reality during the movie’s most wonderfully loony moment. I won't give it away, but it brilliantly combines youthful innocence with adult decisions through the most entertaining impressions of Sesame Street characters you’ve heard in ages.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 7:30 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com. @mattpais

 

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