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Blu-ray Review: The Five-Year Engagement

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It would be awfully glib to make a comment on The Five-Year Engagement saying that the movie certainly feels like it takes that long or if only they had never bothered to get engaged we wouldn’t have to watch or why didn’t they get married more quickly so as to shorten the film.  All of those hint at the truth, but none are quite the right way of saying that the Nicholas Stoller comedy starring Jason Segel and Emily Blunt is just too dull to sustain its more than two-hour runtime. 

The film, written by Segel and Stoller, follows Tom Solomon (Segel) and his relationship with Violet Barnes (Emily Blunt).  The two, in the opening moments of the film, get engaged but when Violet has to take a job outside of San Francisco, which is where the couple lives, they decide to put their engagement on hold. 

Now, there’s the first problem with the film – they fail to establish any compelling reason whatsoever for the couple to delay marriage for a few years simply because they’re moving elsewhere.  They have no intention of being apart during this time, but they’re just not ready to get married if they can’t do it in the state in which they have been residing.  Sure, sure, they could come back for the wedding and do return on visits after leaving, but the film is unconcerned with the facts behind the matter.  Because they’re leaving San Francisco, and because that means that Tom has to leave his job behind, they’re going to put off the marriage.

Part of the problem with all of this is that it’s simply a bad title.  It gives away where the film is heading, and does so poorly.  When the inevitable break up comes before the couple hits five years of engagement, it’s that much more obvious that they’re going to be getting back together.  But, even taking that away, there isn’t much to like in the film.

The real story is about the difficulties of picking up and moving for another human being, someone you love.  There is an uncomfortable divide many of us face between career and family – which should take precedence, how much precedence, and what will you do if one person’s career begins to affect your family life.  In The Five-Year Engagement, Violet is accepted for a program at the University of Michigan.   Tom, meanwhile, is an up-and-coming chef in San Francisco and fears that Ann Arbor might stifle his career.  But, he goes with the love of his life anyway, and resentment festers. 

Segel is almost able to save this whole debacle, he’s so close, and maybe if the movie were 30 minutes shorter he’d succeed, but as the over-long piece that it is, even Segel’s lovable goofiness isn’t enough to redeem Tom.   Okay, so Tom had to put his career on the backburner for a little while because Ann Arbor, according to the film (I’ve never been there myself so I can’t judge), isn’t a Mecca for fine dining.  Unquestionably, it can’t be easy for Tom, but watching him sink into self-loathing and resentment isn’t enjoyable.  It is a great start of an idea, but it never moves beyond the start – it just idles for two hours.

Where does the bigger problem lie?  Is it that Tom is unlikable as a sad sack or is it that the years-long derailment of their marriage plans seems far-fetched?  Probably both issues are equally at fault.  With either one individually the movie would have been far better off, but with a not-very-believable-despite-trying-to-be premise and an unlikable main character, it’s just too much.

The supporting cast here is talented and performs well.  In fact, regularly when Tom and Violet meet anyone you’ll find yourself saying “Wait, I know that guy, they’re the one from…”  Allison Brie, Kris Pratt, Rhys Ifans, Kevin Hart, Molly Shannon, Brian Posehn, and Mindy Kaling all appear (as do others).  And they’re all funny.  In fact, their stories very well might make for better movies than Tom and Violet’s story. 

What I certainly can’t complain about is the quality of the Blu-ray release.  There are some truly beautiful scenes with rich colors and great city backdrops.  Textures look good, black levels aren’t a problem, and nighttime scenes lose absolutely nothing in the darkness.  The DTS-HD Master Audio track plays its part well, too.  One is mainly aware of the rear speakers when music comes out, but there are certainly ambient effects present throughout and the levels aren’t a problem.

In terms of bonus features, things are somewhat more of a mixed-bag.  The film comes with a pretty good audio commentary with Stoller, Segel, Blunt, Pratt, and a producer, as well as a good making-of piece.  Then there is just a load of deleted/extended/alternate/etc. scenes.  There are gag reels, and a couple of set of alternate takes, and the list goes on.  Some of it is amusing, but most of it was probably cut for a good reason. There is also an extended, unrated, version of the film (it runs two hours and 12 minutes to the theatrical version’s two hours and seven minutes).  iTunes and Ultraviolet digital copies, as well as a DVD version, are also present.

The Five-Year Engagement seems to set out to prove the John Lennon quote that “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  It is a film about a couple who put life on hold in order to go live life.  It is a movie that you’re going to root for—that I rooted for throughout—but which never quite finds anything wonderful to say or a good way to say something mediocre.  You will be pleased when the engagement finally ends, but that may in part be because the credits start rolling.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.