I used to love studio-produced romantic comedies. Or at least love them in a guilty pleasure sort of way. “Pretty Woman,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “As Good As It Gets,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” “Bridget Jones’ Diary”… Many of them flawed, to be sure (and occasionally downright dangerous in that whole unrealistic fairy tale projection thing). But they were and are joyous viewing experiences if you don’t think too much about them. However, somewhere in the past decade, I more or less gave up on the genre. This new age of “New Years Eve,” “Valentines Day,” anything-starring-Katherine Heigl type of films almost always come across as hastily put together, purse pandering pieces of garbage that suggest there’s no intelligence level in its audience demographic.
The few exceptions to this rule have largely had some sort of affilation with Judd Apatow, as far as I’m concerned. “Knocked Up,” “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and most especially “Bridesmaids” have each at the very least had multiple moments of inspired humor… and blended sentiment in somewhat gracefully. So last night when I headed to Apatow-produced “The Five Year Engagement” – the opening night film of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival – I was acually kind of looking forward to it. A nice, easy night at the movies. But then the movie started.
“The Five Year Engagement” is, quite simply, an extraordinary waste of time. And a somewhat extraordinary waste of talent. I’ve been somewhat neutral toward both Jason Segel and Emily Blunt (“The Muppets” and “The Devil Wears Prada” the only times either really won me over, respectively), but the film’s supporting cast all deserved considerably better: Jacki Weaver, David Paymer, Mimi Kennedy, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, Mindy Kaling and Chris Parnell (the last four each representing one show on my mostly beloved NBC Thursday night lineup). Not to mention Apatow, who clearly sometimes will produce a film for the sole reason that his friends are involved.
Segel and Blunt play two people whose names I can’t remember and am not going to bother to look up. After a year of dating, they get engaged in a too-cute opening sequence. But as the title tells us, things don’t go as planned. Blunt’s character ends up taking a job in Michigan, which forces Segel’s character to abandon his own career and move with her. What follows is a tedious, feels-like-six-hours second act that basically drives them to break up (for good reason). But it’s not over. Because for whatever reason it’s decided these two still belong together (they clearly do not) and a tacked on, equally tedious third act finally gets them hitched (oh, did I forget to say spoiler alert?).
The main problem I had with “Engagement” (besides a few racist jokes, horribly unlikeable characters, poor pacing, plot holes and an uneven tone) was the moral of its half-assed story. Which is basically: Settle for what’s in front of you, even if its not that great. Unfortunately, that’s a reputation the Tribeca Film Festival has largely had over its decade of existence. Everyone has high hopes that this year is about to buck that trend… Let’s just hope it’s opening night film isn’t suggestive of that not being the case. Either way, though, it certainly hasn’t given me new hope for my long lost love of romantic comedies.
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