Film School: The Five-Year Engagement
It seemed a fitting thing to take in a screening of The Five-Year Engagement at the time of one's five-year wedding anniversary, and so we (being the husband and I) rode the romantic comedy cliche wave all the way to the cinema complex on opening day.
Complex being the operative word. While oftentimes skimming over the many splendid intricacies of co-habitating and marriage to a person who is not you (and therefore is oftentimes perplexing, frustrating, downright discombobulating... but, hey, who'd want to be married to themselves?), the film does go some way to telling it how it is between a young couple who harbour ambitions for life that don't necessarily, erm, marry.
The question seems to be: do you stay or go when everything starts to unfold and the ambitions burn brighter than the wish to dwell in the relational state and there are no kids to speak of who might take precedence over personal feelings? The answer in this film is both yes and no (though I shan't spoil the ending!).
Violet (Emily Blunt) is a psychology graduate with her heart set on obtaining a doctoral posting at the university of her choosing. Her partner, Tom, is a sous chef of some acclaim, though unaware of his raw talent. They get engaged to the merriment of their friends at a boutique B&B called The Drunken Pig, though they've only dated a year and Emily's embittered, divorced mother (played by Australia's own Jacki Weaver) has her hesitations.
Life gets in the way of the wedding plans.Violet's sister, Suzie (Alison Brie), falls pregnant. A gunshot wedding follows that leaves Violet and Tom in awe of its beauty and mildly jealous, which is hilarious and true. Then Violet gets a job that requires the couple to move from hilly San Francisco to chilly Michigan. Tom agrees to follow his love to the world's end, sacrificing a job promotion in the process, and attempts to make-do with serving sandwiches as she thrives in the world of academia.
He is plainly not a happy man. "You told me that it was gonna be two years," says Tom when Violet gets a promotion. "It's sort of like when you're on a treadmill, and you tell yourself, 'I want to run five miles today,' and now, it's forever miles...". Her jab-in-the-stomach response is telling: "When was the last time you were on a treadmill? Sorry...". Ouch.
Tom's gradual, sorrowful downfall is unsettling. Juxtaposed with Violet's beautiful post-graduate wardrobe, immaculate grooming and cheery disposition, he looks bedraggled, forlorn, a lost man. She is not so lost in her work as to leave Tom unnoticed, nor unloved, but the essence of the man she fell in love with becomes shrouded in mohair (literally).
What is a man to be if he is not himself in his natural habitat, his dreams and desires suppressed so that his damsel might enjoy the fruits of her labours? But what is a girl to do when the man she is engaged to starts to unravel at the bunny-costume seams and takes on the hirsute appearance of Neanderthal Man? And all the while the sophisticated Professor Winton Childs (Rhys Ifans) commands her attention.
Tom, we find, is at an unfair disadvantage, but is also his own worst enemy.
This film does not shy away from the fact that a coupling of two people with different interests is difficult terrain to navigate, and nor is the proposition of uprooting life for the sake of one person's career over the other's and the play off in the ego stakes (martyr or hero?).
Whether married, engaged, coupled or single, it forces us to think on the degree to which the job we perform informs who we are, how we might adapt if the safety rug of a certain career trajectory were to be pulled from underneath us, the establishing a sense of self in a new city, and how childlessness (or career-fulness) might affect the progression of a relationship.
The Five-Year Engagement explores the gritty terrain of two people coming together who might not be altogether suited, nor who are necessarily soul mates in the romantic sense, but who enjoy each other's company and profess love until the end. Perhaps the crescendo is the "cookie scene" where Violet and her sister debate the merits of the marital state in Elmo and Cookie Monster voices.
"There is no perfect cookie, just pick one and take a bite!" her sister says in her Elmo voice.
And sometimes stale donuts can taste just as nice as the fresh new thing – they just need a little re-heating. In a world caught up on romantic love, of the search for the soul mate who will complete you, the idea that there is goodness in settling on one and making it work is one that warrants exploration, and to that end The Five-Year Engagement does us a giant party favour.
Sometimes crass (vulgarity appears to be current Hollywood writerly standard), but often very funny and sweet and full of wintry streetscapes and pretty scenery from two lesser-explored American states, I give The Five-Year Engagement an 8/10.
Girl With a Satchel