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Published on April 27th, 2012 | by Louis

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Five-Year Engagement’s Ensemble Cast Elevates American Humor

What hap­pens when you take the top dogs in Amer­i­can hu­mor, slap them to­geth­er in­to a sweet-but-re­al­is­tic sto­ry of waf­fling love? You get one of the best come­dies of the year so far. While it won’t win an Os­car for best pic­ture, The Five-Year En­gage­ment is charm­ing, hi­lar­i­ous, and well worth see­ing.

Over the past few years, Amer­i­can TV com­e­dy has been go­ing through a ma­jor growth spurt. First the British Of­fice came state­side, Steve Car­rell and John Krasin­s­ki in­ject­ing some hu­man­i­ty and warmth in­to the se­ries’ dis­com­fort-driv­en schtick. Then we had its clone Parks and Recre­ation, bring­ing in SNL su­per­star Amy Poehler, Az­iz Ansari, a few Of­fice reg­u­lars, and a few new faces for a sweet, awk­ward sto­ry about one wom­an with a gold­en heart and an in­com­pe­tent de­part­ment. Mean­while, How I Met Your Moth­er and Com­mu­ni­ty proved that laugh track come­dies weren’t dead- Neil Patrick Har­ris, mul­ti-sea­son sto­ry arcs, and gen­uine emo­tion drove a genre I once loathed in­to the ‘re­spectable’ cat­e­go­ry.

The Five-Year En­gage­ment’s en­sem­ble cast draws heav­i­ly from this new world of good Amer­i­can TV. Ja­son Segel (How I Met) plays sous chef Tom, re­cent­ly en­gaged, deeply in love, and very poor at ex­press­ing his feel­ings. When his wife Suzie (Al­li­son Brie from Com­mu­ni­ty) gets a teach­ing po­si­tion in Michi­gan, the cou­ple faces the tri­als and tribu­la­tions of long win­ters, preda­to­ry pro­fes­sors, a rough job mar­ket for Tom, and re-eval­u­at­ing their roles in the re­la­tion­ship.

Hon­est­ly, the plot is not all that im­por­tant to this movie- it’s just a frame­work for an hour and a half of quirky char­ac­ter sketch­es, ob­ser­va­tions on the dys­func­tions of both sex­es, slap­stick, and pot­ty hu­mor. This cast is made of com­e­dy pros, though, and the jokes and gags rarely fall flat. Sweet mo­ments are in­ter­spersed with one-lin­ers and low­brow hu­mor, and the pac­ing keeps it feel­ing fresh and out of the chick-flick/bro-flick mold. The ac­tors play­ing the cou­ple’s par­ents and oth­er adults of the old­er gen­er­a­tion are drawn from film rather than TV ca­reers, and their slow­er, more mea­sured (but still off-beat) per­son­al­i­ties pro­vide a nice foil to the al­ways-on fren­zy of the main stars. We’ve fi­nal­ly moved past the dark days of Amer­i­can Pie and Scary Movie, to mul­ti­di­men­sion­al char­ac­ters, gags that oc­ca­sion­al­ly skirt the gross-out line with­out ac­tu­al­ly cross­ing it, and a sto­ry that seems driv­en by the char­ac­ters them­selves rather than a Hol­ly­wood writ­ing com­mit­tee.

With tick­et prices creep­ing past $12, I’m not sure I can sell the val­ue of the big screen ver­sus DVD- this movie’s charm would prob­a­bly res­onate just as well on a TV. That said, if you have a date night com­ing up, this might be a per­fect film.

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