Not every raunchy romantic comedy needs to be compared to Bridesmaids, but when the tag “From the producer of Bridesmaids” is proudly slapped onto every piece of marketing for The Five-Year Engagement, the studio is practically begging us to draw parallels. Judging from so-so reviews and disappointing box office returns, The Five-Year Engagement didn’t even come close to connecting with audiences the way Bridesmaids did last year. Personally, I liked Engagement quite a bit and thought it was a solid showing from the Jason Segel-Nicholas Stoller writing team and far from Judd Apatow’s worst movie. Here’s how I thought the two wedding-themed movies stack up in a few key areas. (I’ll throw up a SPOILER ALERT! even though you should pretty much know by the title how this love story ends up).
COMEDIC SET PIECES I’ve seen Bridesmaids so many times that I have no desire to watch the entire movie all the way through for another couple years — but I never get tired of re-watching the airplane scene and the never-ending battle of engagement party toasts between Annie (Kristen Wiig) and Helen (Rose Byrne). Those scenes are funny independent of the rest of the movie. The comedic highpoints in The Five-Year Engagement are less riotous and visually engaging. I loved the conversation Violet (Emily Blunt) and Suzie (Alison Brie) have in Sesame Street character voices and Chris Pratt’s hilariously earnest Brazilian serenade, but those don’t invite repeated viewing for me as Wiig’s epic, chocolate-soaked freakout at Lillian’s (Maya Rudolph) bridal shower did. Engagement has a big gross-out gag involving a crossbow, but it feels inserted to make the movie feel more Apatow-ian. Engagement lacks the sort of scenes that make you want to immediately recommend it to your friends.
SADNESS AS COMEDY The best moments in Five-Year Engagement came from legitimately sad situations. I loved the bedtime arguments between Tom and Violet (and Tom’s fake orgasm) – and I know it was on-the-nose, but I thought the whole Tom-as-stale-donuts metaphor was heart-breaking and surprisingly poignant. The emotional core of Bridesmaids was about the way becoming a real grownup can diminish friendships, but Annie’s swift decline from a jittery maid of honor into a full-blown lunatic was in some ways less believable than Tom and Violet’s gradual alienation from each other. Also, Chris Parnell was hilarious as Tom’s even sadder faculty husband.
FUNNY WOMEN So much was made of Bridesmaids being a “female comedy,” and Engagement doesn’t have those kinds of built-in stakes – but it was pure pleasure to see Emily Blunt in a comedic role again with plenty to do. It’s been a while since she stole scenes from Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada. Violet is smart, sophisticated, and stylish, but she doesn’t escape the film without plenty of pie in her face. I liked that it was Violet and not Tom who got an arrow lodged in her thigh and a car door to the nose. Other than Blunt, the best part of the movie is Alison Brie delivering the funniest lines — in a British accent, no less.
RUNTIME A lot of Apatow comedies have major pacing issues. I guess it’s hard to pack all that raunch and seriousness into one movie. At 125 minutes, Bridesmaids is actually a minute longer than The Five-Year Engagement, but Engagement felt interminable. Sure, as the title says, the movie has a lot of time to cover, but there were plenty of expendable scenes – as awesome as Rhys Ifans, Kevin Hart, and Mindy Kaling are, we could have used fewer psychology department scenes. I got a bad stomachache at the 90-minute point and was panicked to see that Tom and Violet were still way broken up.
CLUNKERS Bridesmaids had a few off-key moments that threatened to grind the movie to a halt (pretty much any scene featuring Annie’s British roommates) – but Engagement had more, such as Pratt’s usually likeable character becoming way too dark at times, and Tom’s potato salad-smothered tryst with his deli colleague. Also, Dakota Johnson was completely miscast as Tom’s much younger post-Violet girlfriend. When she revealed her age to be 23, there was a very audible “WTF” moment in my packed screening.
What did you think of The Five-Year Engagement? Did anyone like it better than Bridesmaids?