Judge Patrick Bromley's life is yet another Judd Apatow production.
A comedy about the journey between popping the question and tying the knot.
In 2008, actor Jason Segel teamed with director Nicholas Stoller for Forgetting Sarah Marshall, a movie that gradually became a sleeper hit and one of the best romantic comedies of the last 20 years. Four years later, they re-teamed to recapture that magic with The Five-Year Engagement, and pretty much no one went to see it. Did something go wrong? Or did audiences just not come out to a a movie they should have? Is The Five-Year Engagement an overlooked gem, or a disappointing misfire?
Universal's new Blu-ray of the movie gives audiences the chance to see it again—or, more likely, for the first time—and those questions can now be answered.
Facts of the Case
Tom (Jason Segel, Jeff, Who Lives at Home) is a San Francisco chef who recently proposed to his girlfriend, psychology student Violet (Emily Blunt, The Adjustment Bureau). As they start planning their wedding, they keep hitting roadblocks. Like the fact that Tom's best friend, Alex (Chris Pratt, Moneyball), impregnates and marries Violet's sister (Alison Brie, Community), effectively stealing the couple's thunder. Or the fact that Violet is offered a position in the psych department at the University of Michigan, leading the couple to pick up stakes and relocate to a small snowy college town and delay the wedding. But, then, what's a couple of years? Unless two years turns to four…and Tom is totally out of his element, forced to work at a sandwich shop and take up hunting…and four years turns to five…and…
The challenge in talking about this movie is to not constantly compare it to Segel and Stoller's previous romantic comedy. I'll try and get that out of the way quickly: The Five-Year Engagement has a lot going for it, but is not nearly as good as Forgetting Sarah Marshall. That's a disappointment. What's even more disappointing is that The Five-Year Engagement could have been a darker, more mature look at a long-term relationship. While Forgetting Sarah Marshall was about getting over a past hurt by meeting and falling in love with someone new, The Five-Year Engagement tries to be about going through the cycles of falling in love, getting hurt, and falling in love all with the same person, in the span of the same committed relationship. It's a great idea. It's also kind of a mess.
For the first third of its overly extended running time (it's more than two hours, always too long for comedy), The Five-Year Engagement works. It gets us to like its characters. It treats them as real people, and they talk to each other as such. It presents some tough choices and doesn't back down from them. It's everything I hoped it would be. Slowly, though, things begin to slip away. Characters begin to behave like characters in a movie. Segel stops being someone who warrants our sympathy, first wallowing in depression (ok, we'll allow it) before morphing into a near-irredeemably selfish jerk. The movie loses sight of why it is that Tom and Violet fell in love in the first place. Defenders would argue that is what the movie is about. To that, I must quote Roger Ebert: "Movies are not what they are about, but about how they are about it." It's possible to tell a story about a couple who struggle with making it work in the face of obstacles and show those obstacles to be very real things without resorting to the kinds of things that The Five-Year Engagement does. This is not a movie about a couple driven apart by life. It's a movie about a couple driven apart by clichés.
The movie gets by on the charm of its cast, who are tremendously likable and charismatic. Segel continues to be a good, if somewhat unconventional, leading man; he's funny without always being jokey, sad without being a total mope. Blunt is even better, probably because she's getting to play the kind of part she's never really had the chance to play. Yes, it's a pretty typical romantic comedy role, but none of her previous roles have really afforded her the opportunity to be funny. Chris Pratt steals all of his scenes and gets all the big laughs, mostly by being the same Chris Pratt he is in everything. Alison Brie is slightly wasted, but at least the movie understands that having Alison Brie in something is better than not having Alison Brie in something. All of the small roles are filled in with talent too, from Chris Parnell (Suburgatory), Mindy Kaling (The Office), and Kevin Hart (Think Like a Man), to David Paymer (Ocean's Thirteen), Jackie Weaver (Animal Kingdom), and Brian Posehn (The Sarah Silverman Program). Only Lauren Weedman (Date Night), as Tom's boss, is too broad in a small role, reaching for laughs that aren't really there. The movie keeps falling back on her, too, as though it doesn't realize how tone deaf her performance is.
Universal gives The Five-Year Engagement the same treatment it has given every other Judd Apatow production, especially in the special features department. The movie is presented in 1.85:1/1080p high definition widescreen and it looks great. While it isn't a movie of fancy visuals, the photography (especially the San Francisco sequences) has a gorgeous, sun-soaked look. Skin tones are natural throughout and fine detail is evident throughout. It's very solid work. The disc's DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track does right by the dialogue, but isn't all that well utilized otherwise; the surround channels feel underused, and the even the songs don't quite create an immersive experience. It's a case of not being bad at all, but also not being everything if could have been.
There are certain bonus features that only show up Apatow Production discs, and that's the case with The Five-Year Engagement, even if the movie doesn't really warrant a lot of them—things like "Line-o-Rama," featuring alternate lines of dialogue and jokes, and "Experiement-o-Rama," which is basically the same thing but devoted only to Violet's co-workers (played by funny people like Mindy Kaling and Kevin Hart) coming up with wacky psychology experiments. More outtake featurettes are included too, like "Weird Winton," with deleted material of Rhys Ifans, and "Gonorrhea Trouble," a deleted piece with Emily Blunt and Jim Piddock (playing her father). There's the requisite gag reel, which runs almost 10 minutes and contains a few laughs, even if it does eventually become somewhat self-indulgent.
Speaking of self-indulgent, there are two versions of the movie available to watch. There's the 125-minute theatrical cut, which already runs about 20-25 minutes too long, and then there's the 132-minute "unrated" cut, which is borderline insufferable. Plus, isn't the jig up on the "unrated" phenomenon? Early on in the R-rated comedy craze (like, all the way back to the original American Pie), "unrated" often meant a little more nudity or raunch. Now, though, it's just an excuse to issue a longer cut that was never submitted to the MPAA. There's nothing "unrated" about the additional material on the longer cut. If the longer cut isn't enough for you, there's also nearly 90 minutes of deleted and alternate scenes (the Blu-ray has twice as many as the DVD, which only has about 45 minutes worth). There's a ton of interesting stuff there, and it provides a fascinating glimpse into how the movie was made in the editing room—both for better and for worse. So many comedies these days are overshot, with more material than time, which explains why they tend to be so messy. That's the case with The Five-Year Engagement too, and the deleted scenes show what Stoller and Segel originally had planned. It's not vastly different, but it is different, and worth a look. Also included a number of featurettes, from the jokey ("Top Chef: Alex Eilhauer," which features the cast of that reality cooking show but with Chris Pratt's character as the subject) to the informative, like an excellent "Making Of" overview piece and two shorter "making of" bits that focus on scenes cut from the movie. All interesting stuff.
Lastly, there's a commentary track featuring Stoller, Segel, Blunt, Pratt, Brie (barely), and producer Rodney Rothman. It's worth listening to just for its star power, but it's also, as can be expected, a great deal of fun. There's a ton of production information and stories, but also tangential conversation that's very enjoyable—at times, maybe even more so than the movie. Best of all is that despite the many participants, it rarely devolves into everyone talking over one another or just laughing loudly.
Finally, a standard def DVD copy, a digital copy, and a cloud-based UltraViolet streaming copy have been included for your viewing convenience.
The Five-Year Engagement isn't a bad movie so much as it is a missed opportunity. Oddly enough, it suffers from many of the same problems as last year's Bridesmaids, another Judd Apatow production: it's a mix of an interesting (and sometimes dramatic) character-based comedy that's continually interrupted by shoehorned bits of broad humor and physicality. Haven't had a laugh in a while? Make Emily Blunt run into a car door (it's telling too, all of these beats were jammed into the movie's trailer). If you're a fan of these actors or dug Forgetting Sarah Marshall, it's worth a look. Everyone else can move along.
I want it to be better.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
• Theatrical Cut
Review content copyright © 2012 Patrick Bromley; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.