After reading many mixed-to-negative reviews, I was going to wait to see The Five-Year Engagement on DVD. I’m glad I didn’t. Funny, nuanced, and genuinely romantic, it’s the best rom-com I’ve seen since last year’s Beginners. Here are some lasting impressions:
1. It feels really contemporary. Several of the reviews I read grumbled about the lack of tension in the movie, given that the central couple, Tom (Jason Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt), are already effectively married: They’re committed to each other and live together, so why bother with a ceremony? These reviews couldn’t have missed the point more. Yes, the title refers to a delayed wedding, but the film’s central conflict is an excruciating situation that almost every one of my friends has experienced, or at least contemplated: Moving for your significant other’s demanding, inflexible career, thus sacrificing your own career, leaving behind all your friends and family, and exponentially multiplying the pressure on your relationship. In Engagement, the culprit behind The Big, Bad Move is academia, but moving with your S.O. to some podunk town and hoping like hell that you don’t resent him/her for the rest of your life for it also happen to people in business, the arts, and the military. As soon as Tom and Violet move from San Francisco to Michigan, he regrets the decision, and that regret slowly but irreversibly curdles into bitterness and anger. The script is satisfyingly unafraid to explore how Tom’s second-fiddle status makes him resentful and poisons his relationship with his fiancee. Unfortunately, it completely ignores how Violet handles the move to Michigan apart from her professional success and romantic troubles — a glaring blank in an otherwise wonderfully detailed portrait.
2. It’s very romantic. I suppose mileage will vary on this one, but I for one was utterly charmed. Sure, the meet-cute is wider-eyed than a newborn puppy and the weddings that begin and end the film are practically fucking perfect, but one wrenching scene sticks out in my mind as the most tender and loving. Tom and Violet have their worst fight in bed after she admits a betrayal. Shaken, Tom says that he needs to be alone. She starts for the couch, but he stops her, saying he wants her beside him. She begins to speak, and he repeats that he needs to be alone. So they sit together in bed, silent and tense, Tom indignant but needy and Violet uncomfortable but eager to assuage. Their obvious fondness for and attachment to each other, even when things are at their worst, give Engagement its raw, quickly beating heart.
3. Alison Brie and Emily Blunt are adorable and hilarious, and they have chemistry with everyone. I was a bit distracted by Blunt’s disconcertingly Queen Mum-ish accent, though.
4. Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller’s script was well-plotted, but only some of their jokes worked. I laughed a lot, but much more at the visual gags than the jokes involving words. It didn’t help that all the best PG jokes were spoiled by the film’s trailer. (Expect to see even more of Jason Segel’s body.)
5. The film rightfully acknowledges that Asians are found in California and academia, but does quantity make up for quality? The Asian character with the second biggest role (after Mindy Kaling’s “Kelly Kapoor Goes to Grad School” character) is a somewhat stereotypical Type-A student, and all the others are random hotties. Sorry, attractive Asian actresses! You’ll have to play wordless second/third wife roles to old, white men for a while longer.