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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Thank Azaria

Best. Characters. Ever.

Our favorite Hank Azaria characters.

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GIFs via Giphy

Hank Azaria may well be the most prolific voice and character actor of our time. The work he’s done for The Simpsons alone has earned him a permanent place in the pop culture zeitgeist. And now he’s bringing another character to the mainstream: a washed-up sports announcer named Jim Brockmire, in the aptly titled new series Brockmire.

We’re looking forward to it. So much so that we want to look backward, too, with a short-but-sweet retrospective of some of Azaria’s important characters. Shall we begin?

Half The Recurring Simpsons Characters

He’s Comic Book Guy. He’s Chief Wiggum. He’s Apu. He’s Cletus. He’s Snake. He’s Superintendent Chalmers. He’s the Sea Captain. He’s Kurt “Can I Borrow A Feeling” Van Houten. He’s Professor Frink. He’s Carl. And he’s many more. But most importantly he’s Moe Szyslak, the staple character Azaria has voiced since his very first audition for The Simpsons.

Oh, and He’s Frank Grimes

For all the regular Simpsons characters Azaria has played over the years, his most brilliant performance may have been a one-off: Frank Grimes, the scrappy bootstrapper who worked tirelessly all his life for honest, incremental, and easily-undermined success. Azaria’s portrayal of this character was nuanced, emotional, and simply magical.

Patches O’Houlihan

Dodgeball is a “sport of violence, exclusion and degradation.” as Hank Azaria generously points out in his brief but crucial cameo in Dodgeball. That’s sage wisdom. Try applying his “five D’s” to your life on and off the court and enjoy the results.

Harold Zoid

Of Futurama fame. The crazy uncle of Dr. Zoidberg, Harold Zoid was once a lion (or lobster) of the silver screen until Smell-o-vision forced him into retirement.

Agador

The Birdcage was significant for many reasons, and the comic genius of Hank Azaria’s character “Agador” sits somewhere towards the top of that list. If you haven’t seen this movie, shame on you.

Gargamel

Nobody else could make a live-action Gargamel possible.

Ed Cochran

From Ray Donovan. Great character, great last name [editorial note: the author of this article may be bias].

Kahmunra, The Thinker, Abe Lincoln

All in the Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian, a file that let Azaria flex his voice acting and live-action muscles in one fell swoop.

The Blue Raja

Mystery Men has everything, including a fatal case of Smash Mouth. Azaria’s iconic superhero makes the shortlist of redeemable qualities, though.

Dr. Huff

Huff put Azaria in a leading role, and it was good. So good that there is no good gif of it. Internet? More like Inter-not.

Learn more about Hank Azaria’s newest claim to fame right here, and don’t miss the premiere of Brockmire April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Flame Out

Brockmire and Other Public Implosions

Brockmire Premieres April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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There’s less than a month until the Brockmire premiere, and to say we’re excited would be an insulting understatement. It’s not just that it stars Hank Azaria, who can do no wrong (and yes, that’s including Mystery Men, which is only cringeworthy because of Smash Mouth). It’s that the whole backstory of the titular character, Jim Brockmire, is the stuff of legends. A one-time iconic sportscaster who won the hearts of fans and players alike, he fell from grace after an unfortunate personal event triggered a seriously public meltdown. See for yourself in the NSFW Funny or Die digital short that spawned the IFC series:

See? NSFW and spectacularly catastrophic in a way that could almost be real. Which got us thinking: What are some real-life sports fails that have nothing to do with botched athletics and everything to do with going tragically off script? The internet is a dark and dirty place, friends, but these three examples are pretty special and mostly safe for work…

Disgruntled Sports Reporter

His co-anchor went offsides and he called it like he saw it.

Jim Rome vs Jim “Not Chris” Everett

You just don’t heckle a professional athlete when you’re within striking distance. Common sense.

Carl Lewis’s National Anthem

He killed it! As in murdered. It’s dead.

To see more moments just like these, we recommend spending a day in your pajamas combing through the muckiness of the internet. But to see something that’s Brockmire-level funny without having to clear your browser history, check out the sneak peeks and extras here.

Don’t miss the premiere of Brockmire April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Mirror, Mirror

Portlandia Season 7 In Hindsight

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available Online and on the IFC App.

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Another season of Portlandia is behind us, and oh what a season it was. We laughed. We cried. And we chuckled uncomfortably while glancing nervously around the room. Like every season before it, the latest Portlandia has held a mirror up to ridiculousness of modern American life, but more than ever that same mirror has reflected our social reality in ways that are at once hysterical and sneakily thought-provoking. Here are just a few of the issues they tackled:

Nationalism

So long, America, Portland is out! And yes, the idea of Portland seceding is still less ludicrous than building a wall.

Men’s Rights

We all saw this coming. Exit gracefully, dudes.

Protests

Whatever you stand for, stand for it together. Or with at least one other person.

Free Love

No matter who we are or how we love, deep down we all have the ability to get stalky.

Social Status

Modern self-esteem basically hinges on likes, so this isn’t really a stretch at all.

These moments are just the tip of the iceberg, and much more can be found in the full seventh season of #Portlandia, available right now #online and on the #IFC app.

via GIPHY

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