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DID YOU READ

Tim Grierson on “The Five-Year Engagement” and other movies where love doesn’t always end happily ever after

Emily Blunt and Jason Segel in The Five-Year Engagement

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“The Five-Year Engagement” doesn’t exactly work, but it is a rare Hollywood comedy about the problems of making love last. Romantic comedies (and dramas) tend to focus on the difficult groundwork that needs to be laid — pardon the pun — before a couple can find their happily ever after. At the end of most movies, the guy and gal realize that they’re perfect for one another, and the credits roll before we see what happens next: They’re in love, and that’s all that matters. Though it’s overlong and spotty, “The Five-Year Engagement” at least focuses on that part of a relationship you almost never see in other movies. And, interestingly, it’s not the only film recently that’s done that.

Now, I should say that this is hardly a revolutionary idea. Movies about the problems with long-term relationships have been explored in comedies before. Woody Allen’s 1977 Oscar-winning “Annie Hall” sifts through the wreckage of a failed love affair, but because of its jumbled timeline you hold out hope that maybe things will eventually work out. (A later Allen masterpiece, “Husbands and Wives,” would delve into the topic with even more insight 15 years later.) Writer-director-star Albert Brooks’ great 1981 film “Modern Romance” is all about a couple who can’t decide if they’re more miserable together or apart. In these movies, the typical boy-meets-girl setup is already way in the past — this type of film gets its laughs from how hard the boy tries to keep the girl.

But in the last few years, there have been a rash of good films that tackle this dilemma, either as comedy or drama — or perhaps a little of both. Three years ago, “(500) Days of Summer” took a page from “Annie Hall,” screwing with its chronology to offer a snapshot of specific days in the year-and-a-half relationship between Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (a never-better Zooey Deschanel) to show what went wrong with their courtship. As with a lot of these recent movies, there’s a push/pull dynamic going on in “(500) Days of Summer” that’s different than the typical, predictable “How will they finally fall in love?” suspense of your regular romantic comedy. Instead, “(500) Days of Summer” acknowledges that sometimes lovers aren’t completely compatible, and so we in the audience watch Tom and Summer and wonder if maybe they’re not meant to be together. That’s not a fault in the film — hey, that’s just life.

The superb 2010 indie drama “Blue Valentine” is in some ways a more traditional look at the relationships-sure-are-hard predicament. Again, there’s a juggling of time frames. (Scenes of happy puppy love between Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are juxtaposed with present-day scenes of the now-married couple utterly miserable.) But like “(500) Days of Summer,” “Blue Valentine” operates somewhat like a mystery. The viewer looks at the flashback scenes and wonders if there were clues to the couple’s future unhappiness there all along. And while there are no pat answers, what emerges is a sense that the things that draw us to a mate can also ultimately repel us — an adorable quirk or tendency eventually revealing a character flaw or deep insecurity. We expect on some level for stark indie dramas to examine difficult subjects like this, but “Blue Valentine” cuts so deep because even though this couple probably can’t make things work, we recognize how much love there still is between the two of them. That’s what makes the film so heartbreaking: Despite all the anger and regret, love doesn’t entirely go away.

That poisonous combination of love and hate — which, really, are two different expressions of the same sentiment — is also the subject of last year’s divisive “Like Crazy.” The drama starts with the passionate love affair of students Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin, but when complications force them to be separated by an ocean, their powerful need for one another soon morphs into ugly emotions, as they both lash out in unfortunate and often immature ways. One of the most difficult things for the film’s critics to understand is that, honestly, we’re not meant to look at Jones and Yelchin as star-crossed lovers whose infatuation is destined to defeat all obstacles. Quite the opposite: “Like Crazy” is a rather sobering and honest account of what it’s like to be in one of those high-voltage, high-drama relationships where the people bring nothing but pain to each other. Everybody around them knows they shouldn’t be together, but, tragically, no one bothered telling the two of them. (Interestingly, “Like Crazy” essentially ends the same way that “Modern Romance” does, except this time there’s nothing remotely funny about the outcome.)

If you did like “Like Crazy,” though, let me suggest the recent French drama “Goodbye First Love,” another tale of crazy love with no happy ending in sight. In the film, Lola Creton plays a young woman hung up on a slighter older boy (Sebastian Urzendowsky). The problem is that he’s left France to see the world, and as the years go by, his letters stop coming. Clearly, he’s moved on, but Creton can’t. (Like the couple in “Like Crazy,” she’s too inexperienced in life and love to understand that your heart will heal.) And so she goes on for several years pining for this boy, even as her own life gets bigger and more interesting, including being courted by one of her professors. “Goodbye First Love” is probably the least romantic of any of these movies I’ve cited — the central couple is barely on screen together — but it’s a poignant, accurate depiction of what it feels like to nurse a crush that won’t go away. And just like with “Like Crazy,” being annoyed at the character isn’t the point. Her entire problem is that she can’t get over this guy. This type of thing never happens in most Hollywood romantic comedies, but I’m sure it’s happened to someone you know — or, god forbid, even you.

Which brings us back to “The Five-Year Engagement,” a movie that starts with its would-be happy ending, Tom (Jason Segel) proposing to his girlfriend Violet (Emily Blunt). But their wedding gets put on hold when they move from San Francisco to Ann Arbor so she can pursue her career as a psychologist. Though mostly a broad comedy, “The Five-Year Engagement” has grander ambitions, dramatizing how difficult it is to maintain the innocent infatuation of a relationship’s early days during the trying times. Sadly, the film lacks the courage of its convictions, wasting time with silly digressions and formulaic twists, but at least it tries to suggest that love takes more than a sweet kiss in the final reel. It’s easily the least accomplished of any of these movies — and its meager showing at the box office this weekend suggests audiences weren’t that interested in giving it a shot — but it’s nice to see a film with big stars for once acknowledge that, sometimes, love just ain’t enough.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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