There is nothing hidden in The Five-Year Engagement. The title itself practically gives away what is going to happen in the end to Tom Solomon (Jason Segel) and Violet Barnes (Emily Blunt). Nicholas Stellar, the director and co-writer (along with Segel), is aware of the stereotypes often associated with romantic comedies: a happy, delightful couple, who have to endure tragically comedic situations, but somehow come together for a fairy tale ending.
In fact, Tom and Violet meet at a costume party, where she is dressed as Princess Diana and he as the “Super Bunny.” The slow motion shot of a man dressed in a homemade, pink rabbit suit walking over Princess Diana is both sweet and hilarious. It is, of course, love at first sight, but the satirical motion of the camera relaxes the drama of the scene. These moments are what makes Five-Year both delightful and strangely captivating – the film never takes itself too seriously, and yet, the characters and their situations still come across as provocative and meaningful.
Even the marriage proposal at the beginning of the movie is ridiculous. Violet finds out that Tom is proposing to her before he actually has a chance to do so, effectively ruining any suspense, yet she insists on carrying through with whatever he had planned. The film itself offers little suspense, but the story offers an insightful glimpse on how relationships function during changes in time and place.
Both Tom and Violet are ambitious professionals in their respective fields. Tom is poised to start his own restaurant in San Francisco, while Violet hopes to continue her education at University of California, Berkeley as a post-doctorate in psychology. Violet gets rejected from Berkeley, but receives an acceptance from the University of Michigan, and the couple postpones the wedding to move out to Ann Arbor. This decision means that Tom has to also delay his dream of becoming a prestigious chef, while his fiancée chases her own dreams.
The decision between chasing personal aspirations and sacrificing for the relationship becomes a delicate balance. The film never attempts to directly blame one person or another for the couple’s missteps. Unlike Violet’s job as a psychologist, who is always searching for the causality of human emotion and interaction, there is no clear reason why or how Violet and Tom eventually find themselves in a precarious position. What the film offers is a cautious reminder of the impractical use of reason for explaining complicated situations. The significance of Tom and Violet’s struggles derive from the fact that we identify naturally that they mean something, even if we do not know what they mean—it is a delightful, fairy tale concept.
The Five-Year Engagement is an enjoyable, hilarious and engaging film, with great performances and chemistry between Segel and Blunt. My only complaint is perhaps the length – probably could have been 20 minutes shorter – but I never felt that the story lost significant momentum, which is an unfortunate tendency in romantic comedies. Like most contemporary films in the genre, we are meant to feel good after we leave the theater. This film not only offers the encouraging fairy-tale ending, but a reassurance that the moments leading up to that point are just as significant.