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The Five-Year Engagement and Lay the Favourite
Love hurts, though not too badly, in Nicholas Stoller’s romantic comedy about a doe-eyed couple whose rose-tinted dreams of marital bliss are undone by the pressures of everyday life. Penned by leading man Jason Segel and director Nicholas Stoller, who recently collaborated on the script for The Muppets, The Five-Year Engagement trades heavily on the rapport between Segel and British actress Emily Blunt.
The leads, who are friends in real life, gel delightfully in front of the cameras and kindle sparks of sexual chemistry that have us rooting for their soon-to-be-weds when fate conspires to tear them apart. Mirroring the central relationship, Stoller’s slick confection woos us with a terrific opening 30 minutes of zinging one-liners.
Jacki Weaver is a hoot as the heroine’s sardonic and cynical mother who has suffered her fair share of heartache and scoffs at the myth peddled by Hollywood of a fairy-tale romance in which Tom Hanks gets the girl. “The sad fact is, most relationships end up like Saving Private Ryan or Philadelphia,” she snipes.
For all its barbs and grim predictions of impending anguish, Stoller’s film is engineered with clinical precision to rouse and entertain, so you can be confident that the tears and bitter recriminations will be sweetened by a feel-good denouement.
San Francisco sous chef Tom (Segel) meets psychology graduate Violet (Blunt) at a Make Your Own Superhero party.
On their one-year anniversary, he pops the question with help from his friend Alex (Chris Pratt).
Tom’s parents Pete (David Paymer) and Carol (Mimi Kennedy), and Violet’s mother Sylvia (Jacki Weaver) are thrilled and at the subsequent engagement party, bed-hopping ladies’ man Alex has an encounter with Violet’s emotionally volatile sister, Suzie (Alison Brie), that he will never forget.
Soon after, Violet secures a doctoral position at Michigan University, studying under Prof Winton Childs (Rhys Ifans), and Tom selflessly sacrifices his career to follow her to the frozen Midwest.
But the move puts the relationship under intolerable strain and Tom and Violet contemplate breaking off the engagement to pursue their career ambitions in separate states.
The Five-Year Engagement begins promisingly and establishes a brisk tempo with rapid-fire dialogue and some amusing vignettes. Then the malaise sets in.
Our attraction to the script and the characters wanes and we almost fall out of love entirely with the film during a plodding and bloated middle section that noticeably treads water.
Thankfully, disenchantment is tempered by affection for Segel and Blunt.
Beth Raymer (Rebecca Hall) hails from Tallahassee and ekes out an unfulfilling living by shedding her clothes for beer-swilling punters in the privacy of their trailer parks in Lay the Favourite. So she packs up her belongings and heads to the bright lights of the Nevada desert where bookmaker Dink Heimowitz (Bruce Willis) introduces her to the thrills and spills of illegal sports gambling.
Beth’s natural aptitude and boundless enthusiasm pique Dink’s interest and she becomes a good luck charm for his co-workers Scott (Wayne Pere) and Frankie (Frank Grillo).
As Dink gravitates towards his flirty protegee, their close-working relationship generates friction with his vampy wife, Tulip (Catherine Zeta Jones).
When the tension becomes unbearable, Beth is compelled to seek alternative employment with rival Rosie (Vince Vaughn). The romantic subplot is hamstrung by inert screen chemistry, and the final sting falls flat.