The Five Year Engagement starts out cute—in fact, really cute, although not in a way that makes you cringe (that comes later). Tom (Jason Segal) proposes to Violet (Emily Blunt) on a romantic San Fran New Year’s Eve. What could possibly go wrong, you wonder? Well, considering this happens in the movie’s first moments and you’ve got another two hours to go, plenty, almost all of it is patently ersatz.
Violet accepts an opportunity to do her doctoral program in psychology in Ann Arbor, and Tom obligingly puts his career as a budding chef on the back burner to accompany her. Since the culinary tastes of Michigan are not quite those of the city by the bay, Tom takes a job making sandwiches at a deli and tries to adjust to the slower pace of life by reluctantly joining new friends on hunting trips. Various speed bumps give pause to the couple as they wend their way toward matrimonial bliss, and some of them are rather funny, even as most are ludicrous. But hey, it’s a romantic comedy.
The movie benefits from strong performances, particularly the well-suited main duo, but also Chris Pratt as Tom’s rather slow brother, Alison Brie (with a Brit accent almost as lovely as Blunt’s) as Violet’s sister, and Mindy Kaling, Kevin Hart and Randall Park as Violet’s fellow doctoral students. There are several funny moments and predictable misunderstandings, but the movie suffers from a lack of tension. We know that Tom and Violet will eventually, some day, get married, but not enough is made of Tom’s decision to completely forego his aspirations in order that Violet may develop hers. One longs for Tom to just go berserk and insist that some sort of compromise is in order, and then see where the chips may fall, but instead he’s left on a slow simmer with nothing to do. Overall, it’s a cute movie but one without much needed doses of grit and vinegar.