The Five-Year Engagement
Directed by Nicholas Stoller
Screenplay by Jason Segal and Nicholas Stoller
Produced by Jason Segal and Nicholas Stoller
Emily Blunt as Violet
Jason Segal as Tom
Chris Pratt as Alex
Alison Brie as Suzie (Violet’s sister)
Rhys Ifans as Winton (psychology professor)
Dakota Johnson as Audrey
Emily Blunt’s not short of work, is she? This romcom is by Nicholas Stoller, who has the track record for this kind of film, and co-written with Jason Segal, who plays the male lead (Tom).
Tom (Jason Segal) proposes to Violet (Emily Blunt)
Basic storyline: Violet (English) and Tom (American) meet up in San Francisco. We open with their engagement, exactly a year after they first met. He’s on the path to becoming a significant head chef, while she wants to continue her studies (post-doctoral?) in psychology.
Suzie (Alison Brie) meets Alex (Chris Pratt)
We see the big engagement party, where we meet both the families. The British grandparents are seen on a Skype link. Violet’s sister, Suzie (hilariously played by Alison Brie) gets off with Tom’s prospective best man and co-chef, Alex. She also gets pregnant that night. The funniest scene in the film is when she tells Violet. She and Emily Blunt are a great team.
The morning after the engagement party. Violet, Tom, Alex and Suzie checking out of the hotel
So Violet persuades Tom to throw in his job (Alex gets it) and move with her to the University of Michigan. This is in the frozen wastes of the Mid-West and Tom can’t get a decent job because there are no good restaurants and people laugh at the thought of someone leaving San Francisco for Ann Arbor. Here I started to wonder. I had friends who attended Michigan, and I thought Ann Arbor was like Cambridge, Austin, Durham or Evanston … the sort of smaller city with a huge prestige university that would be brimming with good eateries. But not in this story. In this one he’s reduced to working in a sandwich bar.
Tom in the Michigan woods with his new pal
Things go from bad to worse for Tom. He meets up with a fellow “faculty husband”, a sort of Iron John deer hunter who’s also in touch with his feminine side and knits elaborate embossed pullovers for fun. Tom shoots deer with him, grows side whiskers, gets fat and morose. Michigan is just backwoods, cold and miserable, and it sucks. This might be unfair to an entire state. Segal submits himself to plenty of indignities (he was co-writer) but it’s fairer to do it to yourself than to another actor.
Meanwhile over at the campus, Violet is having an intellectually stimulating time, working with charismatic Welsh professor Winston (Rhys Ifans … Ifans is probably how you spell Evans if you’re aggressively Welsh, and in the story, on matters of pronunciation, Winston is). Her seminar group (South Asian, East Asian, African-American) are lots of fun. They conduct psychological experiments on groups of people, along the lines of seeing if they’ll eat stale old donuts in preference to waiting for fresh ones. It turns out that only losers with relationship issues do this. Tom will soon do it at home. Later Violet will do it too.
Tom is outside of all this, stuck with his co-workers at the sandwich bar, including the shambling, bearded nerd, Tarquin (Brian Posehn in a notable cameo role). Tarquin’s rehearsal dinner speech is another hilarious high point.
Did I mention that the Michigan weather is inclement?
The engagement meanders on from year to year punctuated by dying grandparents (the funerals, plus snow in Michigan mark the passing years). Prof Winston makes a drunken pass at Violet which she rejects, but she tells Tom who can’t accept it. In the end they decide on a sudden marriage at some local hoedown bar, but break up at the rehearsal dinner, and Tom has a funny drunken chase on foot scene with Winston. Then Tom finds himself in the empty sandwich bar screwing the waitress, Audrey (Dakota Johnson).
The seminar group: Vatheen, Ming, Doug, Violet and Professor
OK, on to part two. And there is a strong line. A good place for the DVD to change layers when it comes in that format. Violet is now with the Professor drinking champagne. Tom is back in Frisco desperately trying to keep up with the sexually insatiable new 23 year old girlfriend, Audrey. In another key scene, he has lunch with his parents who advise him that he’s being a dickhead. Back in the wastes of Michigan, all is not well. Violet suspects she’s being offered a promotion and tenure only because Prof Winston wants to keep her there, rather than because of her ability.
One more relative dies. Tom flies over for the funeral. They get back together, go to San Francisco. Cue big happy tears-of-joy weepy ending. You’ll have to watch it if you want to fill in the details.
Right. At 124 minutes it’s certainly 20 minutes longer than the optimum for the genre which needs to be quick. It crawls in places. That does help its strongest feature by allowing a sudden change of pace. At least six times, there are sudden, violent incidents which have you squirming in your seat. No plot spoilers, they’re all small accidents that people survive, but they happen so fast that they have great impact. It’s a signature of the film’s direction.
Emily Blunt is automatically delightful, but we see a LOT of her winning smiles over the two hours, and for her it’s coasting on known and tried abilities. I’d like to see her in a meatier role now … or would I? She’s cornered the market in light comedy, and is a natural for it. She is distinctively “Emily Blunt” and I can’t see a producer employing her and wanting to change her English accent, or style. She plays smart too: a doctorate in two successive movies.
Also, it may be brilliant costume and wigs, but she looks uncharacteristically thinner in the face in the earlier part of the story, but fuller in the face when she’s got rid of Tom to San Francisco … but she’s also better dressed too now she’s with Winston, with a more expensive hairstyle, showing she’s gone up in the world.
There are lots of good bit parts, some decent lines. It’s a film for DVD rather than the cinema. It would be good on a flight, the happy ending working well with half a bottle of wine at 38,000 feet when your defences are low and you might find yourself sniffing tearfully at the happy ending. Well, that happens to me on flights.
We assume that all the grandparent funerals (we see a few seconds of each) take place back in England. The last one, where Tom follows her, is set in an American white-painted board church if ever I saw one. He arrives in a London taxi, shown strictly from the side, I suspect so they didn’t have to change the US license plates … there are a few of them about in the USA. There’s a shot of Violet’s childhood home, which looks English, but no one’s in shot, so it could be second unit (or carefully chosen).
The soundtrack was done by a Van Morrison fan. Early on, Tom gets a line about liking Van. We get bits of half a dozen early songs, though some are cover versions. On the IMDB I couldn’t find them listed, but at least we get Jackie Wilson Said, Into The Mystic, Brand New Day, Sweet Thing, Crazy Love, Bright Side of The Road. A soundtrack album would be good … none is listed. I wanted to know who did the covers.
Three stars? It’s not bad. You’ll be entertained by a good cast. But you’ve seen a dozen like it. It’s not as ‘different’ as either Salmon Fishing in The Yemen, or Wild Target, if you want to see Emily Blunt in her light comedy / romantic role.