As a writer, producer, and director, Judd Apatow is cinema’s most prolific and consistent purveyor of what Quentin Tarantino calls “hang-out movies,” films with characters so relatable and entertaining that audiences want to revisit them like beloved friends. The new Jason Segel-co-written, Apatow-produced romantic comedy The Five-Year Engagement is an unusually pure hang-out movie. Like its protagonists, it’s in no hurry to get down to business, unless the business in question is luxuriating in the camaraderie and ebullient good humor of an unusually likeable group of friends and associates played by a band of ringers that includes Mindy Kaling, Kevin Hart, Brian Posehn, Alison Brie, Chris Pratt, Chris Parnell, and Rhys Ifans, in addition to the perfectly matched, perfectly cast leads, Segel and Emily Blunt.
The Five-Year Engagement’s purposefully meandering plot finds the wedding of inveterate charmers Segel and Blunt perpetually delayed due to the demands of Blunt’s career in academia. The happy couple gets uprooted from San Francisco to Ann Arbor when Blunt is accepted into graduate school at the University of Michigan. The initially game, indulgent Segel grows increasingly resentful when circumstances force him to put his own professional aspirations aside to support Blunt’s thriving career. Segel sinks into a prolonged funk and adopts a hirsute mountain-man persona after he takes up hunting and bonds with a house-husband (a very funny Parnell) who’s equally devoted to killing and eating large animals, and knitting. Meanwhile, Blunt becomes close with a charismatic mentor (Ifans) who takes a more-than-professional interest in his gorgeous, effervescent protégé.
As co-writer and star, Segel is a generous leader. He’s happy to cede attention and big laughs to his co-stars, even when Pratt, as Segel’s boyish best friend, threatens to steal the film with an inspired variation on Segel’s adorable goofball persona. Director/co-writer Nicholas Stoller (Segel’s writing partner on The Muppets and director on Forgetting Sarah Marshall) only really begins to show the comedy’s 124-minute length in a slightly wobbly, oddly paced third act that, in time-tested romantic-comedy tradition, separates its lovers for reasons that sometimes feel organic and earned, and sometimes feel like screenwriter contrivances. Given its title and premise, it’s poetically apt that The Five-Year Engagement is a lovely, sweet, funny, romantic, and supremely worthwhile endeavor that unfortunately takes longer to wrap up than it should.