Friday, April 27, 2012

The Five-Year Engagement [2012]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O)  Michael Phillips (3 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (2 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Michael Philips' review -,0,5506041.column

The Five-Year Engagement (directed and cowritten by Nicholas Stoller along with Jason Segal who also costarred in the film along with Emily Blunt) chronicles in a comedic but often quite realistic way the bane of a more than a few parents and grandparents to say nothing of their religious leaders.

Exactly a year after aspiring chef Tom Solomon (played by Jason Segal) and English born but studying in the states psychology grad-student Violet Barnes (played by Emily Blunt) met at a San Francisco Bay Area "Come as your own Superhero" themed New Years Party, Tom proposes to Violet.  She says yes!  

At a somewhat stodgy "engagement party" sometime afterwards, we meet the rest of the families / friends.  Tom's parents, Pete and Carol Solomon (played by David Paymer and Mimi Kennedy respectively) are Jewish.  Violet's parents, Silvia Dickerson-Barnes and George Barnes (played by Jacki Weaver and Jim Piddock respectively) are Anglican and divorced.   Violet's father has since remarried to a striking woman (but with no lines) of Violet's age.  Tom also has a often stupid co-worker / best friend named Alex (played by Chris Pratt) and Violet is close to her younger sister Suzie (played by Alison Brie).  Among the things that happen early in this story (that spans five years) is that Alex ends up knocking-up Suzie at the Tom and Violet's engagement party and thus because they "have to get married" the two get married even before Tom and Violet were going to get married to begin with, that's if all things had gone "as planned." But of course, things don't go "as planned."

Soon after the engagement party, Violet finishing grad school, finds out that she was rejected for the post-doc program that she had applied to at U.C. Berkeley.  Accepting that, she puts her energies into planning Tom and her wedding.  Then she and Tom find out about Alex and Suzie and thus they too were now (scrambling) to get married.  And obviously, though it shouldn't matter, both Tom and Violet are taken aback that even though Alex and Suzie were doing everything in a heavily improvised fashion (Suzie was like 6-7 months pregnant in her wedding dress, etc) their wedding went actually quite nicely.  So no pressure on Tom and Violet ... (Alex and Suzie remain an improvisational counter-example to Violet's and Tom's far more "let's get everything perfect before..." approach throughout the the movie).

A short time afterwards, Violet finds out that by a fluke she got accepted into the post-doc program at the University of Michigan.  After talking about it, Tom and Violet _postpone_ their wedding but decide to move out to Michigan (Tom quitting his promising job in San Francisco) so that Violet could do her post-doc work in Ann Arbor.

The story really begins at this point, and clearly much ensues, including among other things, the one-by-one deaths of every single one of Violet's grandparents, while the couple never seems to get married.

What happened?  This is something that I actually know something about from my own grad-school / academic days, and it is also something that comes out relatively prominently in the FOCCUS inventory that the Catholic Church uses in its marriage prep program for young couples: Has the couple really discussed and come to agreement regarding each one's career aspirations and, yes, each one's expectations of the other in their roles as husband and wife?  This film was ultimately about two talented and ambitious people, Tom and Violet, who really needed to choose between career and their relationship and had trouble accepting that their decisions whatever they were had real consequences.

Indeed, that FOCCUS inventory that we give marriage couples was all but made for a couple like Tom and Violet, a couple that only knew each other for a year before they got engaged and really did have conflicting career/life aspirations. 

How does the film turn out?  I'm not going to tell you ...

But it turns out from my own experience at the parish where I work that most couples that do come to us to get married already know each other "forever" and have been "basically engaged" for years (and yes come often enough with small kids already in tow).

Why does it seem to take so long?  Well, those questions about life, career and marriage expectations do take time to sort out.  So yes, there's generally a huge difference between how a couple that's known each other for 10 years and been engaged for 2-3 scores on the FOCCUS inventory and a couple like Tom and Violet who met simply at a "Come as your own Superhero" party the year before.  It appears to take a while for a couple to achieve those "super powers" :-)

So what then to make of the movie in the end?  I do think that the film could make for a very good discussion piece for young adults.  It is also a reminder to young adults to not get particularly involved with someone if one isn't really "settled."  And yes, it is a warning about being too ambitious in pursuing a career.  There are always relational costs to pursuing "glory" ...

And yes parents, this film is appropriately rated R.  The film, even by its subject matter, is not intended for teens.  It is intended for young adults and above.

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  1. The huge cast is done right, with almost everyone here getting their own chances to show what they got when it comes to comedy, but sadly, Blunt and Segel are sort of left to the side. Still, good flick even though it wasn't as funny as I would have liked it. Good review Dennis.

  2. The whole movie was a disappointment. Many of the "comedy" scenes ended on serious notes, which led me to feel that the film couldn't decided if it was a comedy or a drama. The humor in the film is largely cliche based; jokes about sex, genitalia and bodily functions largely dominate the humor. How many more p-nis jokes do we need? And someone sniffing a baby's diaper? Man, that one never gets old...

    The two main leads are charming enough to keep you from walking out of the theater, but that's about it. There were no big laughs in the film, just a few chuckles, and there were no gags that were set up or any running gags that spanned the whole film. There's more set up in a Seinfeld rerun than in this entire movie. There was a "hunter" sequence in the film which went nowhere, and the ending, while kind of cute, is something that would only happen in a cheezy movie.

    In short, if you like shallow cliches about love and humor you've seen many times before, you'll enjoy the film. Otherwise, steer clear of this one.

  3. I'm not particularly interested in defending the film and for more reasons that I could count ;-).

    That the film wasn't particularly funny seems to follow a trend in recent romcoms. One thinks of "Love and Other Drugs" and "Young Adult" or even "50/50" (though at least with "50/50" pretty much everyone who read anything about the film would have known that the film was about someone who had cancer...

    In the case of "5 Year Engagement," I would imagine that there was a need to produce a plausible scenario for why it took 5 years for the couple to finally get married. And let's face it, since few people _plan_ to extend an engagement that long, there had to be some complications to the couple's original plan. These complications, while _not_ being "cancer" nevertheless probably had to enter in the realm of "Hey, wait a minute, this isn't particularly funny anymore ..."

    These complications don't even get into what most observing Catholics would object to (and even not particularly observing Catholics would still blush at) ... "For goodness sake, they're 'not married' but they've certainly been sleeping / living together THROUGHOUT all those 5 years (and even before). What the heck would their getting 'married' mean anyway?" And that remains A VERY GOOD QUESTION.

    still, I do think that the film hits on a very common phenomenon in today's society ... that young couples DO live together for an extended time before getting married, and perhaps BEGINS to explore the reasons WHY that would take place.

    As I already noted in my initial review of the movie, many, arguably MOST of the couples coming to us to get married this day are folks who've "known each other forever," been engaged for a long time (maybe not for 5 years but a couple of years is not uncommon), HAVE BEEN LIVING WITH EACH OTHER FOR AGAIN A COUPLE OF YEARS and may even have already a couple of young kids in tow.

    Indeed, one thing that the movie did not broach was the possibility that the couple could have come to have a pregnancy during those years in Michigan. That would have added a new (and again IMHO honest) dimension to the question of finally finalizing things and getting married (or not) AND this would have also effected the couple's career planning.

    Anyway, I continue to think that the film has value as a discussion piece, though I agree, the film's (1) not exactly funny, and (2) certainly doesn't present a couple seeking to conform to any traditional morality.

    Indeed, the film is presenting a couple trying to do it its own way, and finding that it's _not particularly easy_ to do it "its own way." They certainly hurt each other / make some fairly large mistakes along the way.