Movie Review: The Five-Year Engagement (2012)
When did I give up on this movie? I guess about halfway in. That scene where Tom Solomon (Jason Segel), who has sacrificed a rising career as a sous chef in San Francisco to follow his fiancée, Violet Barnes (Emily Blunt), to Michigan (where she is a Ph.D. student in social psychology), is babysitting Violet's 3-year-old niece and takes his eye off her for a second to watch a cat video on YouTube. The girl goes missing. She winds up in the kitchen behind Tom’s cross bow. (“Cross bows don’t clean themselves,” he explains to Violet as to why it’s on the kitchen table.) Then the girl shoots Violet in the leg. Then her parents return, and we get anger and recrimination and blame. And a close-up of the wound.
It just seemed a bit much.
By this point we’re seeing how low Tom can sink. In Ann Arbor, instead of running a foodie joint by the bay, he’s making sandwiches in a local deli and hanging with other, neutered faculty husbands like Bill (Chris Parnell), who knits sweaters and hunts deer. The knitting is for something to do. The hunting is, one assumes, to replenish his disappearing manhood. Tom finds himself following suit, first with a rifle and then with a cross bow. He begins to display flowing, Civil-War-era facial hair. He wears the draping sweaters Bill knits. He begins to make mead from honey. He serves his wilderness fare in fur-covered mugs.
The niece is the child of his goofball friend, Alex (Chris Pratt, Scott Hatteberg of “Moneyball”), and her sharp-tongued sister, Suzie (Alison Brie, Pete Campbell’s wife from “Mad Men”), who met at Tom and Violet’s engagement party and then quickly zipped past them in making a life together. She got pregnant, they got married (with a beautiful ceremony), had the kid, then another. When Tom followed Violet to Michigan, Alex, the screw-up, got the job running the clam bar that was meant for Tom.
Violet, meanwhile, is enjoying her work at the University of Michigan, but her fellow grad students, Vaneetha, Ming and Doug (Mindy Kaling, Randall Park and Kevin Hart), are all one-note sitcom characters, while their advisor, Winton Childs (Rhys Ifans), is obviously making a play for Violet. We wait for it to happen. It does. We wait for the eventual breakup. It occurs. We wait through their new, awkward relationships until they get back together and get married. They do. At the end. Two hours into the movie.
Two hours? For a rom-com? A clue right there.
I liked “The Five-Year Engagement” at the beginning. It felt true and slightly original. Segel and Blunt have great chemistry and are generally sweet together. Plus there are great laugh-out-loud lines. When Violet talks about hurrying up the wedding plans, her sister tells her, “Hey, it’s your wedding. You only get a few of these.” When they worry what the relatives will say when they delay the nuptials, Tom declares, “They’ll live.” Cut to: a funeral.
But there’s too much. They keep pushing the envelope unnecessarily. One of Violet’s fellow grad students is obsessed with masturbation; another with blood and chicken feathers. When Tom gets angry at Vi, he winds up with a crazy girl who wants food-fight sex … or something. He leaves that encounter half-naked, winds up sleeping half-naked outside in winter, and loses a toe to frostbite. Funny. When he opens a foodie taco truck back in San Francisco, to raves, the guy waiting in line can’t just tell him how much he likes his tacos; he has to ask him for a hug. Grandparents have to keep dying, her father has to keep marrying younger Asian women, his mother has to talk to him about her vaginal reconstruction surgery. After a while, it feels like everyone is doing standup rather than serving the needs of the story.
Some envelopes aren’t meant to be pushed. Some bits need a little less commitment.