May 6, 2012

No Strings Attached? Think Again.

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While most kicked off the summer with the action-packed superhero movie The Avengers, romantic comedy enthusiasts like myself started off the summer with The Five-Year Engagement.

The title says about everything. The film opens with a proposal, and five years later, ends with a wedding. Jason Segel (who also co-wrote the film) plays Tom Solomon, a sous-chef of a fancy San Francisco restaurant, who meets Violet Barnes (Emily Blunt), a post-doctoral student in psychology, at a New Years Eve party with the theme of “make up your own superhero.” Tom comes as “Superbunny” and Violet as Princess Diana. Their eyes lock, and cut to a year later, they are celebrating their engagement with all their friends and family. Among the wedding party are actors such as Parks and Recreation’s Chris Pratt and Community’s Alison Brie (whose British accent confused me; I’m not sure why they couldn’t just have hired a British actress to play her sister or have Brie just be a friend).

Due to unforeseen but completely plausible circumstances, the wedding keeps getting postponed. First, it is because Violet’s sister becomes pregnant and steals the wedding-thunder. Then, Violet gets offered her dream job doing research at the University of Michigan. Tom decides to quit his job and move to the icy hinterland with his fiancée. Unable to find a new chef job at a restaurant on par with the one he had just left, he settles for making sandwiches at a cool coffee shop à la CTB. As a side-note, if you had asked me before seeing this movie if there was another way in which Jason Segel could be more perfect, my answer would have been, “if he made gourmet sandwiches.”

While Tom and Violet are both likable enough to make you root for their happiness, their problems are almost too mundane. Of course, Tom is going to resent Violet for making him uproot to Michigan, but there is no way around them being resenter/resentee. This caused the two-hour-long film to actually feel like five years at times, which may have actually been the point.

Although it was a comedy, The Five-Year Engagement did raise serious questions about marriage in the 21st century. Both Tom and Violet have to sacrifice something, whether it be their careers or living in a place that isn’t Michigan, to make their relationship work. And the problems that exist in the beginning of the film still exist in the end. Though it has a happy ending, The Five-Year Engagement leaves one with a heavy heart.

Rather than being assured that all is right with the world, and that this perfect couple will go on to open restaurants and become professors and have lots of babies, the audience is left with the more depressing sentiment that marriage is constant work. Though the wedding is at the end of the movie, there is definitely the sense that the wedding is not the end, but instead an arbitrary point in the middle of a relationship.

That’s not to say that The Five-Year Engagement was not entertaining: In addition to the hilarious cast members already mentioned, Mindy Kaling (Kelly from The Office), comedian Brian Posehn, Chris Parnell (Dr. Spacemen of 30 Rock) and a whole host of other very funny people graced the screen with their presence. When you get that many awesome people in one room, there is no way the result could be anything other than laughter. But that was the problem with The Five-Year Engagement. It felt like Jason Segel simply got together a bunch of friends and wrote a couple of hilarious vignettes that were only loosely strung together.

Besides some scenes and lines that would cause anyone to laugh out loud, The Five-Year Engagement was beautiful. I want to own every single item of clothing Emily Blunt and Alison Brie wear and I want to eat everything Jason Segel and Chris Pratt cook. I also want to live in everyone’s apartments and houses and be guests at all their weddings and funerals. My materialistic desire for all of the stuff in this movie is surpassed only by my desire for all the stuff in It’s Complicated (mostly just Meryl Streep’s kitchen).

I would be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy watching The Five-Year Engagement, but perhaps my expectations were too high. Parts of the movie were unbelievably funny, but as a whole it just didn’t work. Maybe movies are like marriages: the audience has to sacrifice the desire for perfection, and the filmmakers have to sacrifice the unnecessary half an hour and hope that dedicated fans will buy the DVD and watch those favorite deleted scenes.

Original Author: Julia Moser