BLOGS

<i>The Five-Year Engagement</i>: Five Sitcoms, One Movie

Maybe it's because his day job is starring on a long-running CBS sitcom, but Jason Segel's third self-penned star vehicle (after Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The Muppets, where he shared equal billing with his puppet co-stars (a point of contention for some of us in the audience), often feels more like the pilot for a half-hour television comedy rather than a feature film. In fact, it feels like five pilots crammed into one movie.

Certainly, the central premise alone -- a couple (Segel and Emily Blunt) gets engaged and then has their wedding repeatedly postponed by a series of unexpected circumstances -- could be greenlit by a network tomorrow. But the movie is packed with additional subplots and characters that would also all support their own series. And, given the space to live and breathe on their own, they'd probably blossom into shows we'd seek out on a weekly basis. Here though, they only serve to clutter up and slow down what should be a snappy, witty rom-com romp. As penned by Segel and his regular collaborator Nicholas Stoller (who also directed), The Five-Year Engagement manages the curious feat of being both overstuffed and underwritten; the filmmakers appear to be so in love with their various story threads and supporting characters that they can't bring themselves to trim any of the fat, even when it would result in a focused, funnier movie. The middle section in particular drags significantly, as Segel and Stoller lurch between their different sitcom premises to the point where we lose sight of the story's main emotional thrust.

What saves The Five-Year Engagement from sheer tedium is the enormous likability of the large cast, from Segel and Blunt to second bananas Alison Brie and Chris Pratt to one-or-two scene ringers Mindy Kaling, Kevin Hart and Brian Posehn. These charming, charismatic actors inspire a ridiculous amount of goodwill amongst the audience, which in turn makes the lumpy proceedings go down more smoothly. If The Five-Year Engagement really did inspire five spin-off sitcoms, here's what they'd look like:

Sitcom-Ready Plotline: After dating for a year, Tom (Segel) and Violet (Blunt) decide to get married and set about planning their dream wedding... only to have reality constantly get in the way.
Suggested Sitcom Title: The Five-Year Engagement works just fine, actually.
How It Works in the Movie: Segel has confessed that he wrote Forgetting Sarah Marshall in response to his own real-life breakup with a girlfriend (possibly his old Freaks and Geeks co-star, Linda Cardellini), which explains why that film has a pronounced mean streak that turned some people off at the time. The Five-Year Engagement is a sweeter affair, but still carries a funny, dramatic bite as it goes about showing how even the strongest relationships have trouble standing up under the pressure of things like career ambitions and familial eccentricities. And Blunt and Segel are well-matched as an onscreen couple, her quick wit balancing his more laid-back presence.
Why It'd be a Good Sitcom: Besides coming with a built-in five-season arc, an ongoing series could expand on these characters' romantic histories, introduce new personality quirks and have some fun with the ridiculousness of wedding planning in general.

Sitcom-Ready Plotline: A San Francisco-based grad student in social psychology, Violet is eager to land a postdoctoral gig at Berkeley but instead gets offered a place at... the University of Michigan. Deciding that she needs to follow her dream, Tom agrees to pack up their apartment and move from sunny Cali to chilly Michigan. It goes without saying that adapting to their new surroundings proves more difficult than they assumed...
Suggested Sitcom Title: Baby, It's Cold Outside
How It Works in the Movie: The Michigan material makes up the bulk of the movie's plodding middle section and while Violet eventually settles in rather nicely, Tom falls prey to culture clash syndrome in a big way. The West/Midwest divide does inspire some funny moments, but other sequences -- like Tom's introduction to hunting -- drag on too long and take a few too many easy potshots at those Ann Arbor "rubes." Those are the sorts of moments that could have been easily trimmed or cut altogether to keep the movie clipping along.
Why It'd be A Good Sitcom: The fish out of water routine is a tried-and-true sitcom premise that sometimes clicks (The Fresh Prince of Bel Air) and other times doesn't (Outsourced). With the right writers at the helm, this particular incarnation of that genre could really take off and actually improve on what's in the movie.

Sitcom-Ready Plotline: Careful, cautious Violet has a wild child younger sister named Suzie (Brie, doing an English accent that's so spot-on, you'd think she really was Blunt's sister) and Tom has a wild and crazy best buddy Alex (Chris Pratt). Much to everyone's surprise (and shock), Suzie and Alex wind up hooking up, falling in love and getting married.
Suggested Sitcom Title: You're the One That I Want
How It Works in the Movie: As great as Blunt and Segel are together, there's no question that Brie and Pratt walk away with the film. Together and apart, these two are a consistent source of laughs (just wait until you hear Brie's hilarious Elmo impression) and actually emerge as the couple you root for the most.
Why It'd be a Good Sitcom: The stark contrast between Violet and Tom and Suzie and Alex as couples would certainly provide plenty of fodder. One caveat: you'd need to have Brie and Pratt reprise their roles and we're not eager for their gigs on Community or Parks and Rec to come to an end anytime soon.

Sitcom-Ready Plotline: Violet starts her job at the University of Michigan and finds herself working alongside three wacky grad students (Kaling, Hart and Randall Park) and striking sparks with her handsome boss, Professor Childs (Rhys Ifans)
Suggested Sitcom Title: Postdoc Panic
How It Works in the Movie: One of the reasons that Violet adjusts more readily than Tom to life in Ann Arbor is her rewarding job and nice, if somewhat odd co-workers. Thanks to the mix of personalities onscreen -- scene-stealers Kaling and Hart, straight woman Blunt and funny, relaxed Ifans -- these sequences prove to be the strongest sections of the film's middle Michigan chapter. Ifans also serves as a good foil for Segel; you can see why Blunt would find his Welsh charm attractive as her fiancé grows increasingly unhinged.
Why It'd be a Good Sitcom: Community aside, there's always been a dearth of great collegiate comedies on the airwaves, which is a shame as it's a natural setting for a series. Also, the social psychology hook gives the writers the chance to dream up silly experiments every week.

Sitcom-Ready Plotline: After giving up his sous chef position at a trendy San Francisco restaurant to make the move to Ann Arbor, Tom finds that opportunities in the Michigan culinary world are far more limited. Eventually, he gets a job working at a sandwich shop, serving up subs and melts while standing next to a pickle-obsessed stoner (Posehn).
Suggested Sitcom Title: Eat Fresh
How It Works in the Movie: While not quite as consistently amusing as the scenes in Blunt's workplace, the sight of Segel glumly making sandwiches is good for a few chuckles. And Posehn plays his standard shtick to perfection.
Why It'd be a Good Sitcom: There's definitely a lot of comic potential to the idea of a trained chef going from grilling filet mignon to serving up a salami on rye. Sure, Kitchen Confidential flopped, but that was in the pre-Top Chef days. At this point, we're overdue for another culinary-themed TV comedy.

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