Monday, May 21, 2012

The Five-Year Engagement: A Review


I figure that The Five-Year Engagement is a comedy, but curiously, I didn't laugh much.  I think it had to do with the fact that the situation our couple, sous chef Tom (Jason Segel) and psychology student Violet (Emily Blunt) isn't all that difficult to overcome.  They are confusing 'marriage' with 'wedding', which are not the same thing.  The fact that the film feels like it wants us to feel each of those five years doesn't help. 

The big thing I heard at the screening I went to is that The Five-Year Engagement is a long movie.  In fact, this was about the only thing people began to focus on: how long the film was.  One can sit through long films (from the brilliant Gone With the Wind and Ben-Hur on down to any of the Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter films) and find that it is time well spent.  In The Five-Year Engagement, you don't.  This has to do with logic.  In all the other mentioned films, there was a reason for their length: their stories were so expansive that a great deal of time was needed to encompass as much as possible.  Their pacing also was such that one (mostly) didn't notice how much time had passed.  When a story so envelopes you with a great story and brilliant performances that time slips away, it is a great film.

In The Five-Year Engagement, time keeps dragging, and the people you are shacked up with for over two hours appear both boring and almost as bored as we are, not to mention almost insane and inept.

It is New Year's Eve, and exactly one year after meeting at a Superhero Costume/New Year's Party, Tom proposes marriage to Violet.  Soon, the plans for the wedding are being arranged: the cake, the location, the dress.  Violet's maid of honor will be her sister Suzie (Alison Brie).  Tom's best man will be his best friend Alex (Chris Pratt).  Suzie is a little on the uptight side, and Alex is the permanent moron.  Obviously they hook up at the engagement party.

Violet doesn't get into Berkeley for her doctorate as she had hoped for, but she does get an offer from Michigan.  This of course means having to...postpone the wedding.  Tom, deeply in love as any other fool, readily agrees to quit his job to live with Violet those two years of graduate school.  Meanwhile, Suzie finds she got knocked up, and this requires a wedding to the baby daddy.  Despite being immature and incredibly loutish, Alex does indeed go ahead and marry Suzie.

The fact that her sister is already married with children and Violet and Tom have yet to even set a date doesn't appear to faze them in the slightest.  Violet throws herself into her psychology studies alongside her classmates Vaneetha (Mindy Kaling), Ming (Randall Park), and Doug (Kevin Hart) and her professor Winton Childs (Rhys Ifans), Tom is pretty much left to his own devices.  Michigan is basically a backwater: no high-dining for the redneck/hick crowd.  He gets a job at a sandwich shop, and is miserable.  He takes to hunting, and is miserable.  Tom appears to be slipping into if not out-and-out insanity at least a very strong depression, with only his fellow "college widower", the sweater-sewing Bill (Chris Parnell) to help him out.

Violet's studies have been extended, which of course means yet another delay to the actual wedding.  Tom appears to be almost bonkers, and the ensuing pressures of their unhappy lives causes them to break up (the fact that Professor Childs kissed Violet and Tom had one depression-and-booze filled fling with someone else didn't help matters).  Tom moves back to San Francisco, wiser, sadder, and with one toe less (don't ask). 

Violet's unhappy, Tom's unhappy, but still they can't make it to the church on time.  By the time said five years roll around, Suzie has TWO children and a surprisingly happy marriage to Alex, who is still a bit of an immature moron but who at least realizes that Tom IS slipping into madness with his woodsman beard, penchant for going Ted Nugent on them by not just serving them his kills but skinning the animals for lampshades and cup covers, and by leaving his bow and arrows laying around for Alex's daughter to get hold of.

FINALLY, after the death of all their grandparents, Violet goes to San Fransisco and FINALLY organizes a quick wedding ceremony for a delighted Tom.

I had said that people in the screening focused on the length of this film.  That's not the only thing they focused on.  The logical question in this very illogical film was asked of me: if they'd been living together all these years, why didn't they just go to the courthouse and get married?

That is what I also was thinking.  The idea behind The Five-Year Engagement is that these two crazy kids had a series of hurdles they could not overcome.  In reality, their situation was remarkably easy to resolve: a quick trip to Vegas would have solved it.  A fifteen minute visit to a Justice of the Peace would have solved it.

The screenplay by Nicholas Stoller and co-star Segel refuses to acknowledge the obvious: these two people simply DIDN'T want to get married.  It was all a case of "they doth protest too much".  It is amazing how two people known for being clever with comedic situations (Stoller as director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and co-writer of what I thought was the overrated The Muppets, Segel both as writer of both films and as part of the brilliant I Love You, Man) could be so tone-deaf to anything approaching humor.

The scenes that were intended to be funny (grandparents dying, little girl shooting arrows into other people, getting your penis frozen because you are running around Michigan's perpetual winter without your pants) were actually almost gruesome and perverse.  As I think on it, The Five-Year Engagement wasn't a comedy.  It was a horror film. 

Nothing captures the stupidity and dare I say, the insanity, of The Five-Year Engagement than in Segel's Tom.  This is obviously a weak man (more on that in a moment), and he is also a man on the verge of a total mental breakdown.  We see this as the years go on, with him living this somewhat hazy existence in Violet's shadow.  While she has her work, her studies, her friends, Tom appears to have nothing to do.  He's dissatisfied at the job he clearly hates, and has gone into hunting as an outlet to his inactivity both physical and mental. 

Curiously, the only time in his forced exile in the tundra that is Michigan came when he was given the task of organizing the postponed wedding.  Tom appeared to be finally fulfilled in being able to do SOMETHING, and moreover he appeared to both be enjoying it and being good at it.  When, due to the most preposterous of reasons, the wedding was called off, we no longer care: for him, for his plight, or for the film itself.

At times, Segel looked as if he were seriously drugged out while on camera, giving a sleepy one-note performance to where he looked almost as bored as his audience.  Perhaps this was how the role was meant to be played, but one couldn't care about someone who appeared to lose all grips of reality.  It takes a lot to believe that Alex, the character presented as the dimwit who cares only about embarrassing his best friend (and appears both to not notice how his behavior is at the very least hurtful and conversely be fully aware that his presentation of Tom's ex-lovers would humiliate him) is presented as the voice of sanity.

When it comes to Violet, it's unfortunate the Blunt was given a character that was, well, a bit of a selfish bitch.  I note that not once in the five years did Violet ever discuss anything with Tom.  She never asked what Tom, her fiance, thought about either postponing their wedding or moving to Michigan.  She just basically said she got offered a great post in the Wolverine State, she was going to take it, and Tom could tag along.  It's shocking to see how selfish and self-centered Violet is, and even galling (although perhaps not as surprising) is that for a psychology student how clueless she is. 

On this point I can see how Stoller/Segel were going for irony, but it does make me question how someone who is making a careful study of delayed gratification could miss what is so painfully obvious: Tom is both unhappy and being played for a fool. 

Going on to this idea of how weak Tom is as a character, he never really makes his objections to anything Violet says/does clear to someone as dense as his intended.  Instead, he indulges in this passive aggressive behavior, which only makes him either unlikeable or certifiable, take your choice.  He takes forever to stand up to Violet, to make his unhappiness clear.  He could have resolved this whole situation by simply saying, 'why don't WE talk about this, how this will impact US?'  Instead, he meekly goes along with almost everything Violet tells him, waiting in growing fury and insanity while she pursues her own goals and dreams, leaving nothing for him.

In short, why would he WANT to be with someone who is so dismissive of him in almost every way?

Again and again, despite its best efforts, The Five-Year Engagement isn't funny because the resolution to this situation is so clear: just get married.  It's not the marriage they were endlessly postponing, it's the wedding.  Marriage is the commitment of two people to unite as one.  Wedding is the ceremony.  How two "reasonably" intelligent people failed to understand the difference is beyond me.  The reasons for postponing the wedding are weak at best (given how the resolution at the film's merciful end proved it), and the main characters oddly unlikeable.  A movie about just about any other character might have been more interesting than these two dummies who couldn't just say, "why don't we get married BEFORE going to Michigan/in Michigan and save the ceremony for later?" 

Seriously, Suzie and Alex created a very lovely wedding in one to two months.  I'm suppose to believe these two couldn't do it in five years!?!  The Five-Year Engagement may have ended in an actual wedding, but I expect that Tom and Violet's marriage will be shorter than that. 

I regretfully decline to attend. 



  1. Umm... I wouldn't agree with you. It's a comedy, sit and relax. Maybe it's because I needed to spend some time out of the house, but it seems like a B comedie to me.

    1. A comedy is suppose to make me laugh, right?

      Well, this one didn't, and judging by the audience it didn't do that for them either.

      Just saying.


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