Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller conjured up a little box office magic -- or at least some midbudget box-office respectability -- with “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Get Him to the Greek.” Can they make it a three-peat with “The Five-Year Engagement,” which opens April 27?
The pair took the first step toward that goal when they world-premiered their new comedy as part of the opening-night ceremonies at the Tribeca Film Festival on Wednesday.
As they did with “Sarah Marshall,” Stoller and Segel (the latter stars, the former directs, they both wrote) again tackle relationship problems from a slightly more adult perspective than do most R-rated comedies, though this time with less frontal nudity.
Tom (Segel) is a chef; Violet (Emily Blunt) is a psychology grad student. They seem to be in love, but life circumstances force them to postpone the wedding. As they move from San Francisco to Ann Arbor, Mich., so she can pursue her degree, they begin to grow apart. As with most movies produced or godfathered by Judd Apatow, jokes about Chewbacca's anatomy sit alongside more honest discussions of relationships.
The issues of 30-ish couples were on the minds of the filmmakers, even if you couldn’t always tell from their comments Wednesday. “Marriage is a three-ring circus: engagement ring, wedding ring, suffering,” Stoller said before the premiere, doing his best Henny Youngman.
Many of the hallmarks of “Sarah Marshall” pop up here too: the girl who almost gets away, the bad-idea relationship soon made abundantly clear. Goofy sidekicks and Elmo-impersonating women are also present, so it’s not as if this is Bergman or Truffaut. Still, the movie can have the real problems of real adults on its mind, particularly in an intense bedroom argument that many afterward agreed was the film’s linchpin.
Of course, that also raises the specter of the box-office tweener -- that is, not enough of a drama to get the “(500) Days of Summer” crowd but also not enough of a romp to lure the young male Apatowians?
Tribeca has been a launching pad for comedies before, particularly when it comes to Universal, where the production company run by festival co-founders Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal have their deal. The last Universal comedy to open Tribeca, the Tina Fey pregnancy pic “Baby Mama,” was in 2008. There’s a kind of commercial reliability to all these films; "Baby Mama" and the two Stoller movies each took in about the same amount, roughly $60 million.
Possibly bolstering expectations here is that Segel’s profile is higher than ever.The film also features Blunt, the rare BAFTA nominee to appear in a film from the Apatow clan.
The post-screening party, a wedding-themed affair at the twee Museum of Modern Art, was a who’s who of film types -- in addition to De Niro, occupying a center table and holding court, it featured Michelle Williams palling around with some girlfriends and filmmakers such as Jim Sheridan. Measured by star power, the party was a decisive hit. We'll see if that's true of the film.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Emily Blunt, Jason Segel and Bill Hader at the Tribeca Film Festival. Credit: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images