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'The Five-Year Engagement' has to work at it

Published on -5/1/2012, 10:14 AM

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Before beginning my review of a film about an engagement, I want to mention an anniversary.

To my wonderful wife Renee, happy anniversary. I thought the newspaper would be an appropriate location for a message about our paper anniversary.

The vast majority of cinematic couples are destined either to be together or to die trying. For films labeled as "romantic comedies," we are very conditioned to expect a memorable meeting, a humorous courtship, one seemingly insurmountable challenge, and eventually a happy ending. When a film messes with that formula, most audience members, including myself, feel as if they walked into a meeting late and are struggling to catch up.

"The Five-Year Engagement," written by and starring Jason Segel, definitely tampers with comfortable structure. While it is admirable to take a new approach, I can't decide if these types of films belong in the romantic comedy genre.

"The Five-Year Engagement" accurately could be descried as "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" meets "The Break-Up." This film screams Jason Segel, whose particular brand of humor and unusual knack for touching the nerves of seldom portrayed topics, such as male insecurities, are front and center. The meandering plot is saved by the chemistry between Segel and co-star Emily Blunt, and a bevy of moderately interesting side characters.

Where most rom-coms will have one outrageous friend that provides alternative comedic relief, "The Five-Year Engagement" gets most of its laughs from secondary characters.

The film is commendable in its successful attempt to portray real issues for modern couples, specifically addressing concepts of careers, relocation and family expectations.

However, that's not really what I sign up for when I go see a romantic comedy. I understand it's selfish and short-sighted, but I would bet most audiences would agree with me and want to see a cinematic love that is destined to be, not a couple "making it work."

To the film's great credit, the catharsis, or payoff, at the end of the film is very well written and satisfying. Too often, films that meddle with the expected structure leave the audience groping for an acceptable conclusion.

While the body of the film might have taken five years to get through, the five-minute ending does make most of it feel worthwhile.


James Gerstner works at the Fort Hays State University Foundation and is the founder and editor of Six Horizons Media.

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