1. There are several long stretches in which The Five-Year Engagement is the polar opposite of what anyone would consider "romantic" or "comedy." Jason Segel has always had a tinge of self-aggrandizing self-pity in his characters—the ones he plays, the ones he writes, and both—but for swaths of The Five-Year Engagement, you wonder why he's putting us through this. This is the first supposed feel-good romantic comedy that's rather explicitly about a relationship that is falling apart. The movie attempts to put blame on both sides of the relationship, but Segel, because he wrote this, can't help but stack the deck against his sadsack, overly earnest Segel Character. (It's clear he wants it to work; what's her problem?) It's oddly depressing for a romantic comedy; it's sort of a doughy, flabby Scenes From A Marriage, with occasional fart jokes. If this doesn't sound like your idea of a good time, trust me, it isn't.
2. These Judd Apatow-produced comedies are always shambling and shaggy around the edges, but this one is particularly meandering ... and sort of insanely long. (About 125 minutes, if you can believe that.) The first scene of the film features Segel's Tom proposing to Emily Blunt's Violet in awkward, halting, Segel-esque manner, and when a movie begins with an engagement—and is called The Five-Year Engagement—it's obvious that the wedding isn't happening in the next scene. The rest of the film is a long, looooong series of relationship turmoil, as Tom quits his job as a San Francisco chef to move to Michigan for Violet's academic job (in the odd universe of this movie, working as a researcher at a university is considered the pinnacle of professional achievement), feels emasculated about it, and worries that Violet is going to cheat on him with her boss (Rhys Ifans). As is typical of Apatow/Segel comedies, everything is seen through the man's eyes; this is a movie about male panic. The film sort of lolls around with occasional insights but mostly repetitive, drab relationship "drama." We watch this couple talk and talk and talk and barely muster up the energy to just leave each other, already. The movie has the forward momentum of an unplugged treadmill.
3. In a lot of ways, the film is similar to last year's Like Crazy, which was also about a couple too young and too stupid and too blinded by something they're pretending is love to realize they're entirely wrong for each other. But Like Crazy was about this in a much smarter way; it never felt obliged to play by rom-com rules and conventions. Here, it's pretty obvious from the beginning that these two aren't meant to be together. He's too clingy; she's too dense; they're both too self-absorbed. The actors playing them are appealing—Emily Blunt's one of those actresses you instantly believe—but the movie gives us no reason to invest anything in their relationship; while they're struggling to keep their union afloat, it's hard not to think, you know, you two really should probably break up. Now, if the movie had followed this all the way through, if it had been about a couple who didn't belong together and learned this the hard way but remained friends anyway, we might have had something. (If you chopped a half-hour of running time, anyway.) But this movie lacks the courage of its convictions; it wants to be different sort of romantic comedy ... but not really.
4. One consistently effective Apatow signature is his and his acolytes' ability to populate the cast with appealing, amusing supporting characters, and Engagement is not different: Considering the monotonous squabbles of the lead couple, one finds oneself grateful for the regular respites. This one loads up on the comedy It-folks: Mindy Kaling, Chris Parnell, Kevin Hart, Tim Heidecker, Brian Posehn (who's got the juiciest, funniest part), and they serve as welcome distractions. Parnell, in particular, has a lot of fun as a stay-at-home husband who knits and bags deer with equal fervor. Ifans has real charm, too, until the movie sells out his character and turns him into a handy, convenient villain. But the most frustrating part of The Five-Year Engagement is that it spends all this time with Tom and Violet when it has a far more interesting, amusing couple who keep poking their heads into the movie, wondering why more people aren't paying attention to them. Chris Pratt and Alison Brie play Tom's best friend and Violet's sister (respectively), and they're both absolute riots, not to mention far more developed characters than sadsack Tom and Violet. Brie (convincingly affecting a British accent), in particular, is hilarious, especially in a virtuoso scene in which she argues with her sister in front of her daughter while using her Elmo voice—Brie pretending to be a British person pretending to be Elmo pretending not to be angry. The movie should be about this couple. Every scene they're in, you're sad to see them go. You keep wanting them to come back and save us from these drips.
5. A lot of this might come down to the increasing weariness of the Segel character. So likeable and relatable in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (also written by Segel), this man-child might work a lot better as a child than a man, someone who is more able to reel from life, to recede and be wounded, than actually take part in adult activities. It's hard to take him, or any woman who would choose to be with him, all that seriously, because he doesn't engage the world. You buy him more as someone who has failed and is done trying than someone who tries to make an adult human relationship work. Tom and Violet are much better at unrequited, theoretical love than a mature partnership that requires patience and compromise. I'm not sure the movie quite understands this, though. This is an attempt to make a grownup romantic comedy that has no grownups in it, at least not at its center. Instead, we just watch two people in varying stages of arrested development slowly break up with each other, destroy themselves and everything they care about, never get out of their own way to assess why their lives are unhappy and never quite investigate, or understand, why. So yeah: Date night!
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.