An unfair reading? No, it’s pretty explicit. Directed by Nicholas Stoller from a script he wrote with Segel, The Five-Year Engagement has a tidy scenario. Tom and Violet get engaged as fireworks erupt over San Francisco Bay. Their families celebrate. Then Violet gets accepted into the University of Michigan’s social-psychology department. She explains to Tom that her mother gave up a promising career for her father, and that she won’t make that mistake. Better to put off the wedding and pull up stakes. But once Tom hits the Midwest, this onetime culinary star is reduced to making sandwiches at Zingerman’s Deli. His new best friend, Bill (Chris Parnell), is a househusband who takes care of the kid, hunts, and knits puffy sweaters.
It should be said that Violet is not a stereotypical emasculating female, but her fate is out of her hands. There’s a subordinate couple for contrast, adorable Alison Brie as Violet’s ditzy sister, Suzie, and Chris Pratt as Tom’s immature San Francisco assistant, Alex. They drunkenly hook up, she gets pregnant, and, like the protagonists of Apatow’s Knocked Up, they end up married, with Alex taking Tom’s place as San Francisco’s new star chef. Suzie took the plunge that her sister couldn’t take, made babies, and is now snug and happy.
If you overlook its message, The Five-Year Engagement is enjoyable. It’s long—over two hours—but mainly because Stoller loves his actors and gives them room to play. Blunt blurts her lines and pulls funny faces, and what a funny, gorgeous face she has to pull. Segel’s lumbering body fits his character, who can’t keep pace with his own emotions. But that message: Do Stoller, Segel, and Apatow believe that women should be more like Suzie, for whom a drunken one-night stand and accidental pregnancy prove a blessing? As a capper, Violet’s social-psychology experiments turn out to be ridiculous and lead her, in a roundabout way, to conclude that Tom, her obvious soul mate, is all wrong for her. Those five years teach Violet and Tom nothing except that waiting—and planning and thinking—is for dumb schmucks.