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Five-Year Engagement, The

Universal // R // September 4, 2012
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted August 27, 2012 | E-mail the Author
In 10 Words or Less
Like real life, good times are paced by the bad

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Judd Apatow, Chris Pratt, Allison Brie, packed DVDs, Chris Parnell, Brian Posehn
Likes: Jason Segel, Kevin Hart, rom-coms
Dislikes: Weak pacing
Hates: Cheaters

The Movie
When you say the name Judd Apatow in combination with a TV show or movie, most people have a pretty clear picture of what to expect, and that's a comedy tinged with emotion and humanity, and loaded with big set pieces that leave an impression. There are few areas where this is more true than when he works with Jason Segel, who got his big break under Apatow's watch as sensitive teen Nick on Freaks and Geeks. It would be the start of a successful run as a likable lug who's conquered TV as part of CBS' huge How I Met Your Mother and movies with films like Knocked Up, while working with writer/director Nicholas Stoller he's explored the real and the ridiculous in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and their re-launch of The Muppets. But after his adventures in felt took him in a somewhat different direction, Segel reteamed with Stoller and Apatow to return to his roots, tackling marriage in their trademark style with The Five-Year Engagement.

Segel plays Tom, a successful San Franciscan chef, who has asked Violet (Emily Blunt), a post-doc psychology student, to marry him. While they are madly in love about a year after first meeting, situations conspire to force them to delay their marriage, while the world moves on around them, including the unlikely couple of Violet's sister Suzie (Alison Brie, Community) and Tom's best buddy Alex (Parks & Recreation's Chris Pratt), who quickly have their own family, serving to make the wait for Tom and Violet to marry all the more painfully obvious. And with her education/career taking her to Michigan, under the guidance of hot-shot professor Winton Childs (Rhys Ifans), Tom chooses to make plenty of sacrifices that put tremendous strains on their relationship, including working in a sandwich shop, while Alex' career takes off. A dwindling number of grandparents available to attend the impending, oft-delayed nuptials isn't helping either.

With Segel leading the way, the audience is hooked into feeling for Tom, and with Blunt bringing the charm as his driven, yet supportively goofy finacee, it's incredibly hard to pick sides in their squabbles, and you just want things to work out for them, preferably in a fun musical montage. But this movie has other plans for our star-crossed lovers, and as a result of those plans, it's going to take over two hours to get anywhere. That's a bit of a drag, because the film's integration of realism into its romance leaves the middle of the movie dragging its sincerity around like a wiener dog with spinal problems, It's cute and all, but it gets an bit hard to look at, and you start to think, maybe we should just put it down. Fortunately, this is not Segel and Stoller's first rodeo, and they know how to fix the problems, which they do neatly, in large part thanks of one of the most brilliant arguments in rom-com film history, courtesy of Blunt and Brie, with some inspiration from Sesame Street. Even when the film hits its lowest of emotional low points, and you best believe, Segel, with the help of some facial hair, can take you to some depths, a quick set piece or memorable moment arrives soon to lift spirits, including a great low-speed foot chase and a deli-set seduction that puts Nine ½ Weeks to shame..

If these moments don't keep you invested in Tom and Violet's struggles, perhaps one of the cavalcade of comedic stars on tap might get the job done. You've got Mindy Kaling and Kevin Hart as part of Violet's crew at school, Kumail Nanjiani and Tim Heidecker with cameos as incredulous cooks Tom runs into in Michigan (as well as an entirely wasted appearance by Molly Shannon), and the great David Paymer as Tom's dad, but you've also got Brian Posehn and Chris Parnell as Tom's new pals in his new home state. Both of them are great as enthusiastic supporters of Tom's wedding planning, but they've both got amusingly sad backstories that reveal themselves over time, and really let them shine. While Brie (sporting a British accent) and Pratt (playing a slightly more intelligent version of his Parks and Rec role) are fun together as a severely odd couple, earning laughs mainly from Pratt's hilarious reactions, it's hard to imagine this film without Posehn and Parnell, who are responsible for some of the movie's biggest laugh-out-loud moments. The three of them in the forest, sporting some intriguing outfits, is enough to hand them film-stealing achievement awards. I could easily see them going Get Him to the Greek, and spinning these two into their own movie. I'll be there opening day.

For as much as the film embraces realism in exploring the twists and turns a relationship can take, it often succumbs to the fantasy of rom-com plotting, and the ending is so over-the-top it feels like the movie's cynicism tank hit E, and pure, unadulterated wish-fulfillment took over, crafting a finale that wouldn't have been out of place in any old Katherine Heigl movie (with the exception of maybe Knocked Up.) On the plus side, you've probably grown attached to Tom and Violet, so why wouldn't you want to have them experience some happiness.

This set offers you both the original theatrical version and an unrated cut, which runs seven minutes longer, though it doesn't offer a tremendous difference, outside of a few lines here and there and the introduction of a character from Violet's past that's funny, but hardly needed for the movie. If you want to see what you really missed, you'll need to head to the extras, which explain why someone as talented as Hart had seemingly so little to do.

The Discs
The film arrives in a two-disc set, with a Blu-Ray and DVD, which are packed in a standard-width dual-hubbed Blu-Ray keepcase (in an embossed slipcover.) The Blu-Ray has your standard animated Universal menu, with options to watch the film, select scenes, adjust the set-up, check out the extras and learn more about the disc. Audio options include English, Spanish and French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 along with an English Dolby Digital 2.0 Descriptive Video Service, while subtitles are available in English SDH, French and Spanish.

The Quality
The 1080p, AVC-encoded 1.85:1 transfer looks solid, delivering quality levels of fine detail that are noticeable in hair and in the elements of Segel's face or the slight wrinkle of Blunt's nose when she smiles, but it still maintains the softness of a film presentation overall. Colors may run a bit into the saturated (in the yellow hospital hallway, Segel andf Pratt almost look jaundiced) but there are no serious crimes of note, and there are no issues with digital artifacts or other distractions. Black levels aren't a problem either, despite the film leaning into the dark at times, with plenty of shadows that could have shown off concerns.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is pretty much overkill, as this is an exceedingly quiet film, offering the surrounds almost nothing to do. Even in public scenes, like when Violet's psyche group is at the bar, there's barely a low murmur in term of atmospherics, while many scenes sound like they are taking place in a vacuum (outside of the dialogue of course.) The dialogue is clean and clear, and once in a while the side and rear speakers pick up some work thanks to the soundtrack, but the score is frequently quiet low, and there's not a lot of sound effects to listen for.

The Extras
Take a peek at the back of the box for The Five-Year Engagement, and you're likely to think "Not bad." Actually watch them, and you're likely to think, either "Well, what did you expect from a Nick Stoller release?" or "How did they manage to get such a loaded release for a romantic comedy?" You'd be heard-pressed to find a more impressive package of bonus material for a studio comedy without going back to Forgetting Sarah Marshall (or maybe Get Him to the Greek.)

It all starts with an audio commentary featuring Stoller, Segel, Blunt, Pratt, producer Rodney Rothman and, calling in late in the game for a quick hello, Brie. It's a great track to listen to for both information and entertainment, as the group is very comfortable and very funny, especially Pratt (so I'll forgive him his "who listens to commentaries?" jokes.) Segel is his usual self-deprecating self, while the conversation spins from talk of the production to talk of interest in the upcoming Looper to Segel's addiction to puns, to the challenges of bad acting and on-the-spot foley work. Anyone who's not homeless, Chris O'Dowd or the Suplass brothers should enjoy it. Interestingly, the commentary was recorded for the unrated cut, and then edited down for the theatrical version, so you can enjoy it with either edition.

Throughout the commentary Stoller makes mention of longer versions of scenes, and they look to mostly be available on this set, starting with 12 deleted scenes, which run nearly 45 minutes. There are some gems to be discovered here, including some awkward religious discussion by the two families, a lengthy scene on Hart's character's theories on masturbation, an excised relationship between Tom and Winton, and two pieces that were rather involved pieces of production, involving Tom's awful new business in Michigan and a drug hallucination that could have been a classic movie moment. They were pretty much all smartly cut from a movie that ended up too long anyway, but there's some good stuff here.

However, there's more un-seen fun in the 19 extended/alternate scenes, which are nearly 46-minutes long. Among the bit here, you get a longer version of Alex and Suzie's wedding vows, the development of Tom and Violet's life plans list, not one, but two nearly-fatal adverse reactions by Chris Parnell, a more insane scene with Tom's parents and the truth about their marriage and an alternate take of a scene with Violet and Winton in the lab that probably should have been in the final movie. Looking at all this content, maybe they should have split this movie like The Hobbit.

If you want more from this movie that had heretofore gone unnoticed, there's the 8:38 "Line-O-Rama," which is a supercut of alternate lines from throughout the film. "Experiment-O-Rama" (2:39) is very similar, just focusing on ideas for psychology experiments, and includes a discussion about "monkey porn" between Hart and Kaling, so that's a must-watch. There's even more cut stuff in "Weird Winton" (2:26) which is lots of Ifans bugging out as a drug-fueled Winton, and "Gonorrhea Trouble," a 4:37 interesting piece that looks at the trouble Blunt and Christopher Guest-veteran Jim Piddock (her father in the film) had with a scene about sexually transmitted disease. It's rare to get to see actors struggle this way, so it's a fascinating featurette. If only the 9:28 gag reel was as entertaining, as it's notable mainly for a scene where Segel delivers an accidental blow to Blunt's head.

It's not clear what exactly "Top Chef: Alex Eilhauer" is, but it looks like a clip from an episode of the Bravo cooking show, featuring Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, Emeril Lagasse and Pratt as his character from the movie. Pratt is funny and inappropriate, while his Top Chef co-stars could be better actors, but is it a deleted scene? A promotional piece? Performance art?

The remainder of the extras are Making Of featuettes, but they are certainly not afterthoughts. "The Making of The Five-Year Engagement is presented in two parts and is almost 42 minutes long, covering almost all of the filming experience, up until the final wrap. Stoller acts as host, as you get to watch as something of a fly on the wall, which even lets you see Stoller snap a bit when they are short on shooting time, as well as get to experience the improvisational tone of the set, as Segel and Stoller throw ideas in at any time. Like pretty much everything on this set, you get to see something new and something funny, making this an excellent visual companion to the commentary track.

Meanwhile, two two big deleted scenes, featuring Tom's new restaurant and his hallucination at Thanksgiving, each get a five-minute making-of featurette, showing all the work that went into two scenes audiences didn't see, including special effects stunts and Posehn being trained in the fine art of puppetry. When you're getting making-of pieces on scenes that aren't even in the movie, you know you're getting an in-depth effort on the bonus features.

In addition to all the on-disc extras, you get a DVD copy of the fil, an Ultraviolet stream and a digital copy to download.

The Bottom Line
The Five-Year Engagement is an entertaining movie, but the Apatow label is a misleading one, as this is distinctly from the Stoller/Segel quadrant of that universe, with reality-tinted comedy that gets too heavy in the middle to support its own weight, only to right the ship before the final credits roll. Though the quality is good but not great, the Blu-Ray is filled to bursting though, so if you like the movie, there's tons more to enjoy, including more footage with the comic stars who had limited performances in the theatrical release, and plenty of behind-the-scenes content. Patience will pay off in approaching this film, as the big laughs are legitimate, even if you have to wait for them to arrive.

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

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*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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