The Five-Year Engagement (review)

The Five-Year Engagement Jason Segal Emily Blunt red light

For Worse

How aptly titled a film. The Five-Year Engagement feels about five years long. With an almost total lack of dramatic (or even comedic) conflict, it feels like it’s spinning its narrative wheels for most of its entirely unjustified two-hour-plus running time. There simply never seems to be any reason why lovebirds Tom and Violet can’t just get married already. Okay, sure, they made a move from San Francisco to Michigan, but they do have priests and rabbis and justices of the peace in Michigan, don’t they? I’ve heard tell of actual weddings occurring the American Midwest, so they must. What’s going on with these two crazy kids, then? Why shouldn’t I just smack some sense into Tom and Violet, as I was itching to do pretty much from the get-go?
I didn’t get it. At all.

At first.

But now that the film has settled into my brain and I’ve had some time to let it percolate, I think I finally understand what the holdup is for Tom and Violet… and least as Hollywood would have us understand the situation. Yup, there’s another tedious rant coming your way about how Hollywood hates women. And yes, since you asked, I do get tired of hearing myself go on and on about this. I very much look forward to the day when movies can be shitty without being particularly shitty to women and the reality of women’s lives, and I can find a new thing to rant about.

Here’s what happens. Jason Segal’s (Jeff, Who Lives at Home, Bad Teacher) Tom and Emily Blunt’s (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, The Adjustment Bureau) Violet are superhappy in San Francisco and are planning their wedding when disaster strikes: she does not get the local job she was hoping for, an academic posting that she has been working toward her whole life. She does end up getting a similar job… in Michigan. He leaves his amazing position — as a sous chef in a ritzy restaurant, and on track for his own kitchen someday soon — because, you know he loves her, and he figures he’ll be able to find some satisfying work in Michigan. And it’s only for two years, which is nothing. Michigan, you see, is meant to be but a brief detour for Tom and Violet before they go back to their “real” life on the Bay. So of course it makes sense to delay their wedding, because Michigan isn’t their real world.

But then Violet is a smashing success in her job! Two years turns into more… the sort of “more” that has no end in sight. Now Tom, who has been slowly going crazy because he hasn’t found any work on the same level of prestige he had in San Fran (though the movie gives us no indication beyond Tom’s chafing that the job he did land isn’t fun and interesting and cool), begins to rebel. He agreed to the two years because he is a Nice Guy, but enough is enough. He indulged Violet in her little career thingie, and now it’s time to get back to reality. And reality does not include Violet’s career satisfaction at the expense of Tom’s. Never mind that the opposite has been the truth of many a woman’s life. The Five Year Engagement — which was written, it must be noted, by Segal and director Nicholas Stoller (Get Him to the Greek, Forgetting Sarah Marshall), so it’s very much from a male perspective — is a cinematic squeal of “But what about teh menz!,” the inevitable cry whenever women attempt to point out the crap they’ve had to deal with in their lives. Such unfairness is only worth bitching about — only worth making a feature film about — when the same sort of thing happens to a man.

Mixed in with all the not-terribly-interesting squabbling that volleys back and forth between Violet and Tom is some random weird grossout stuff that comes outta nowhere, as if the film realizes there isn’t enough conflict in its own foundational premise to sustain a movie. There’s also an unnecessary motif about all the grandparents who might die — die! I tell you — before grandchildren get married, and so it’s selfish to wait to get married in your own good time. Stoller and Segal could easily have titled their flick Four Funerals and a Wedding.

The wedding? Ha. It’s not Tom and Violet’s (though I will not spoil the ending, with regards to whether or not they actually end up married by roll credits). Instead, we have the example of Tom’s idiot best friend Alex (Chris Pratt: What’s Your Number?, Moneyball) and Violet’s idiot sister Suzie (Alison Brie: Scream 4), which gets increasingly obnoxious as the film progresses. It breaks down like this. A recipe for happiness for women is: Get married after you get pregnant via a one-night stand of random drunken sex with a crude moron, for this will result in a long-term relationship that totes works. (For men, the recipe is: Be that random moron, and don’t use a condom.) By contrast, then, a recipe for unhappiness for women is the path that Violet follows: Don’t give up the career you’ve been working for your whole life, and don’t sacrifice your work for romance. (For men, the recipe is: Be the schmoe who follows a woman to someplace you don’t wanna be, giving up work you love to do so you can be with her.)

I wish the film had something to say about the idiocy that grips pop culture, the kind that elevates the wedding — the actual big party — over the marriage. There’s satire to be found in that strange notion. The Five-Year Engagement doesn’t go anywhere near that… in fact, it appears to wholly endorse the idea that a marriage isn’t valid until the “proper” sort of big party can be arranged to mark it. I so wish that, with Michigan looming, Violet and Tom had just taken themselves down to San Francisco City Hall, gotten themselves hitched, took their parents and a few friends out for a nice meal afterward, and made plans to make plans for a big party at some point in the future. Of course, this would have eliminated the need for the movie entirely. Which would have been a very good thing indeed.

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