THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT (2012, Nicholas Stoller): 7/10
There’s a trend I’ve noticed in sitcoms lately where the showrunners are doing a better job of having the characters be funny people within the universe of the show itself, rather than just be funny to an audience due to cluelessness, misunderstandings, or quirks. Although steeped in post-modernism, “Seinfeld” was a show that gave its characters hilarious lines, but rarely were the characters laughing. George was in a constant state of neurotic panic despite the fact that everything he said made the viewer crack up. Kramer was in a constant state of oblivious idiocy, and barely cracked a self-aware smile. But these days, with shows like “New Girl” and “Happy Endings,” not only is the dialogue funny — but the characters laugh at each other’s wit, not just their foibles. (Note: I’m not saying this makes them better. “Seinfeld” is miles ahead of “New Girl” in terms of quality, so far).
Where am I going with this? I like how this trend is seeping into romantic comedies too. The recent stable of Judd Apatow-bred writers, directors, and actors has churned out a bunch of films where the characters were funny to each other and made self-aware jokes rather than lines that only punched the viewer. I include in that group Jason Segel (who got his start in Apatow’s and Paul Feig’s show “Freaks and Geeks”) and director Nicholas Stoller, who wrote this film (and FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL) with the same kind of care. Segel and his co-star, Emily Blunt, are really charming leads here — they make each other laugh and it’s infectious. It’s hard not to like them, and that instant sympathy provides adequate grounds to care during their formulaic ups and downs as a couple. (See also FRIENDS WITH KIDS, an even more successful portrayal of funny people in a slightly more serious film).
Otherwise, THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT is not exactly write-home-about-it filmmaking. In fact, Stoller’s direction is quite poor. Several bizarre edits are necessary just to cover a conversation, slapped together with white-out and scotch tape. (I’m giving the editors the benefit of the doubt here, assuming that they did the best job they could with the shitty coverage they were given). Outside of THE DICTATOR, this is the least skilled technical production I’ve seen this year from a mainstream Hollywood film. But thankfully the likability of the leads and the wit of the screenplay is what dominates this experience and makes it yet another 2012 romcom I can shamelessly recommend.
[Side note to fans of the deliriously talented Alison Brie from “Community” and “Mad Men” — she’s quite good here too, but her British accent is terrible; be warned].