The idea of this movie is so straightforward it’s distinctly expressed in its four-word title. A couple (Jason Segel and Emily Blunt) falls in love and gets engaged, but before they can tie the knot, life gets in the way. You’ve seen conceits like this before. Hundreds of times, probably.
The problem is that the way the movie deals with their engagement undercuts the premise of the movie. A “five-year engagement” implies waiting, and I don’t mean in just a prudish sense – it denotes unfulfilled commitment. But how much more committed could these two people be? Segel and Blunt’s characters already live together at the start of the movie, and when Blunt gets a promising internship in Michigan, Segel quits his job as an up-and-coming San Francisco chef and moves with her. They get a house and settle in, delaying their wedding until after the end of the internship; which naturally keeps stretching out longer and longer, putting constant strain on their relationship.
But the wedding, of course, doesn’t mean anything. The movie pretends that its central premise has some importance when in fact it has almost none. The couple is married in all but name, and what we’re watching is not a long-unrequited love story, but a struggling young marriage. Their wedding, as an event, is just a symbol. Even if it happened midway through the movie, these people’s lives would be exactly the same.
I liked the movie just fine as a dark, somewhat wandering romantic comedy, but it’s a film caught between two ideas – one a bright, happy will-they-or-won’t-they love story, the other a dark, Blue Valentine/Revolutionary Road story of dying dreams and quiet unhappiness. The movie is too serious to have too much fun but too scared to go dark. Defter hands might have made the balancing act go a little smoother, but instead it’s a comedy that doesn’t know if it wants to be fantasy or reality. It ends up being neither.