At the Movies: ‘Five-Year Engagement’ — First comes love … then what?
May 15, 2012
If there's one part of a relationship that's nearly universal, it's powering through a movie you hate just to please your significant other.
A film like "The Five-Year Engagement" presents a conundrum since it's hard to tell who's doing it for whom.
The romance between San Francisco couple Tom and Violet (Jason Segel, Emily Blunt) is a story that has it all: a funny first meeting, a year of steady dating and finally, a cute proposal that has their families and friends excited for a nice wedding.
Their plans to tie the knot hit a temporary snag when Violet learns she has been accepted to a scholarly program at the University of Michigan that requires a two-year commitment.
Willing to do anything to make his bride-to-be happy, Tom quits his own job to move across the country with her, putting marriage on hold until they return. After all, it's only two years, right?
While she thrives in the new environment, he languishes in a third-rate job, only making it through the day knowing he'll be leaving soon. With the news that her time at the college has been extended, Violet has to break the news to her fiancé that they won't be going anywhere for a while.
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As months and then years pass, what was originally a minor inconvenience blows up into a wedge of resentment between the two of them, making them question the whole idea of getting married at all, location notwithstanding.
Segel's effortless hangdog expression is one he wears for almost the entire duration of another film where he's the devoted boyfriend continually getting the short end of the stick. Co-scripting with director Nicholas Stoller, he drifts right back into "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" territory, except instead of a breakup he's dealing with being the same person without any realistic prospect of marriage, while still carrying quite the albatross of bitterness around his neck after giving up a career as a gourmet chef to work in a college town deli.
As for the girl in the relationship, Blunt is just as conflicted as the character she portrays. She looks like she wants to be the light-hearted half of the couple and tries hard for laughs, but while Segel can get humor just by poking his bare butt out of an apron, it's much harder for her to come across as funny.
OK, accidentally getting shot in the leg by a crossbow is amusing, but she can only play that card once.
The chance for some hearty chuckles comes easier to other members of the would-be wedding party, such as Chris Pratt as Tom's best friend, Alex, whose concept of a toast at an engagement party is to compile a musical list of ex-lovers set to Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire."
Alison Brie's British accent isn't exactly cricket, but she's still appealing as Violet's self-centered sister, Suzie, who upstages her sibling with a shotgun wedding.
If you think that's the worst thing someone could do to a family member before their nuptials, just listen to Jacki Weaver as Violet's cynical mum, who more or less likens marriage to a slow, painful death from AIDS. But, she's still overjoyed for you, darling.
Grandparents not long for this world, wedding planners who are more than a tad creepy, friends who aren't the least bit helpful in making preparations. No wonder it takes so long to walk down the aisle.
You may be asking why they can't just make a quick trip to city hall, or better yet, do the unthinkable and get married in Michigan instead of California. Well, they try that and the results aren't pleasant, at least not for Tom's big toe.
The root of the conflict isn't in the problems faced by Tom and Violet in trying to get the wedding off the ground but in the issues caused by the delay and the stagnation of their intimacy. Segel and Stoller try to give us an idea of how seemingly silly problems can either destroy a boyfriend and girlfriend or eventually solidify a union as husband and wife.
It's a well-thought-out premise in theory and much more developed than many romantic comedies, but does it have to take so long? The title says five years and it feels even more drawn out than that thanks to an extended depiction of Tom going into a spiral and a painfully obvious subtext involving Violet's psychological thesis work about people who eat stale pastries being discontent with their lives.
Hey, sometimes a donut is just a donut.
If it were 30 minutes shorter, "The Five-Year Engagement" would work smoothly, or at least function. Hopefully, the betrothed couples who see it together won't take it as a sign that things aren't meant to be between them, but at any rate, the journey to the altar could not be this fraught with complications.
Wherever you are, just say "I do" and get it over with.