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The Five-Year Engagement

May 1, 2012
The Five-Year Engagement

I may be biased, but I find two main take-aways from The Five-Year Engagement;. First: do not go for a career in academia if you want to have anything else in your life. And second: never attempt a romantic relationship with someone who studies human psychology. Both of these are recipes for awkwardness, frustration and disappointment. And while the film can be awkward and sometimes frustrating, it doesn’t disappoint,

Violet (Emily Blunt) and Tom (co-writer Jason Segel) are a sweet young couple in San Francisco. Violet is a recent psychology Ph.D. on the academic job market, while Tom is a rising star of a chef. They’re both incredible dorks, but they go really well together. Getting engaged just a year after their meet-cute isn’t really surprising.

But as you might guess from the title, they aren’t about to get married anytime soon. Violet hopes for an offer from Berkeley, but is forced to settle for the University of Michigan. Setting aside the fact that Michigan is a great research university in its own right, the overwhelming likelihood is that pursuing an academic career would mean at least one — more likely several — moves across the country; it’s sort of stupid that they hadn’t ever discussed this before.

But Tom reasons that he can easily find work as a chef in Ann Arbor, so they pack up and head for Michigan, leaving behind Tom’s moronic friend (Chris Pratt) and Violet’s emotional wreck of a sister (Alison Brie). Violet quickly falls in with her supervising professor (Rhys Ifans) and colleagues (Kevin Hart, Mindy Kaling, Randall Park); Tom has less luck, winding up assembling sandwiches in a deli, but manages to meet a fellow faculty-husband (Chris Parnell) and a depressive co-worker (Brian Posehn).

A two-year postdoc turns into four; Violet’s research is a rehash of well-known delayed-gratification studies. It may be a little on-the-nose, but nobody is about to accuse Jason Segel and his co-writer and director Nicholas Stoller of subtlety. In fact, a fair portion of the humor is more about giggling to cover being embarrassed for one or more characters. There’s a lot of wincing involved.

But there’s a warmth to it as well; Segal and Blunt have great chemistry together, and the story avoids most of the common pitfalls of the romantic comedy. For all the individual points I could cite — Ann Arbor isn’t typically snowbound in September, for instance — on the whole it’s among the most realistic examples of the genre.

The movie is further helped by a strong supporting cast, including David Paymer and Mimi Kennedy as Tom’s parents. Hart, Kaling, and Park’s interactions provide some of the funniest — and wince-free — humor, while Brie and Pratt’s scenes provide a bit of a counterpoint to Tom and Violet’s arc. I could have done without Brie’s attempts to replicate Blunt’s accent; did they really have to be sisters?

The big problem here is that Segel and Stoller are in dire need of an editor. Clocking in at a massive two hours and four minutes, The Five-Year Engagement sometimes feels like it’s trying to evoke the sense of something dragging on far longer than it has any right to. Maybe they weren’t sure what jokes would land and what wouldn’t — there certainly are shots fired in all comedic directions — but sometimes it’s better to just pick one direction and go with it.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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