Five dick moves from The Five-Year Engagement

Monday June 18th 2012

If we learnt one thing from The Adjustment Bureau, The Wolfman and Gulliver’s Travels, it’s that Emily Blunt doesn’t know her own talent. Further evidence hits cinemas this Friday in the form of The Five-Year Engagement, the latest Jason Segel-scripted movie that isn’t fit to tread the same earth as Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Overlong and curiously (wait for it) unengaging, the film subscribes to a number of the Japatow School of Comedy’s grossest habits. Here are five I’d like to see struck from the genre:

There’s no single moment in The Five-Year Engagement that you could point to as proof of its shady outlook on ethnic minorities. Its (very contemporary) brand of racism is far more insidious than that. Though its principal roles are all white, the vast majority of the film’s auxiliary characters are from racial minorities. Sometimes they conform to stereotypes, which is played for laughs, and sometime they subvert them, which is played for even bigger laughs, but at no point are they granted human characteristics beyond their respective skin colours. Of course, all of this is coated under such a thick veneer of irony that even bringing it up is somehow ‘missing the point’. Instead, try to understand that it’s not racist when Segel’s best man refers to his ex-girlfriends as ‘this Korean’ and ‘that Korean’; it’s a comment on… political correctness… or something.

Film and television references are Judd Apatow’s bread and butter, which is probably because he’s very good at them. An unexpected (and tonally incongruous) mention of Munich in one of his films can be enough to bring the house down. But that doesn’t mean that a nod to Snow Falling on Cedars can do the same for Horrible Bosses. And it certainly doesn’t justify entire scenes in The Five-Year Engagement dedicated to limply riffing on Ratatouille.

Speaking of pop cultural references, that old chestnut about men crying during The Notebook gets yet another airing here, to illustrate how effeminate Jason Segel becomes after he lets his wife take on the role of primary earner. With little to fill his days, Segel forms a friendship with fellow ‘house husband’ Chris Parnell, who knits him festive jumpers and teaches him how to make mead. He also takes up hunting and starts dressing like a homeless person, which doesn’t really make any sense, but there you go.

Obviously the movie needs some kind of drama to sustain five years worth of engagement, so Segel and Blunt are both given additional love interests. She gets Rhys Ifans as a caring psychology professor and he gets Dakota Johnson as a sex-mad co-worker ten years his junior. Both seem nice enough, and provide the pair with ample diversion from their strained relationship, but we’re never really in any doubt that they’re temporary distractions. And yet, because the Law of Hollywood Ethics states than only bad people can lose out in the end, both Ifans and Johnson are forced to perform spectacular moral U-turns in their final scenes, with him becoming a domineering über-bastard and her revealing a spiteful, childish side that in no way squares with what’s come before. It speaks volumes on the film’s lack of confidence in its central relationship that it goes to such great lengths to write off any alternatives.

Finally, spare a thought for Chris Pratt, the latest in a long line of reasonably talented comedy actors (and not so talented comedy actors) forced to make a living perpetually playing The Schlubby Friend. It’s a thankless task, but somebody has to do it. Wait, no, scratch that, let’s ditch this ridiculous cliché once and for all.