If we break the movie into tone, we have:
Disintegration of ideal
Separation and simultaneous recovery (partial)
Recovery (full) and return to ideal
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Writers: Stoller and Jason Segel
Super Bunny: Jason Segel
Princess Di: Emily Blunt
I thought he was Segel's character's brother: Chris Pratt
Awesome she spends the entire movie with an accent: Alison BrieShould see her in Animal Kingdom: Jacki Weaver
Impresses me more and more each time I see him in a film: Rhys Ifans
Showcase 1: Kevin Hart
Showcase 2: Mindy Kaling
Showcase 3: Randall Park
It's about time he and Jason Segel were friends in a movie: Brian Posehn
As serious as always: Chris Parnell
Sure: Dakota Johnson
Yes, the film makes no secret about disparaging Michigan. Non-Michigan characters flinch at the name. Even the formal direction highlights the shitty winter and cold by cutting from clear, blue, sunny, happy San Francisco to white, bleak, windy, people wrapped in layers and layers of clothing Ann Arbor--the contrast says everything, and foreshadows the chill that will set in to Tom's (Segel) and Violet's (Blunt) relationship.
When we juxtapose Location and Tone, we see a movie that more than mocks Michigan--it makes the case that Michigan isn't a place for happiness.
It'd be one thing if the entire movie took place in Michigan. Then Michigan encompasses both the good and the bad, and we would see that location isn't a factor: the key factors are motivation and circumstance.
That's not the case though.
And what we see is that Stoller and Segel, as the film's writers, were very aware of location. Near the end of Engagement, during the Separation phase, Violet sees Doug (Hart) packing his office. Doug is (unwillingly) leaving Michigan for the University of North Dakota.
Violet responds with, "Oh...that's good!..." In that fake way of "We both know this is bad but we'll say nice things."
Doug: "Yeah!... No, no, it's great, I'm excited. I'mma be a pioneer!!! I'm going to be the first black guy to freeze to death!! It's going to be cool. Yeah, I'm pumped up about it." The passive-aggressive "this sucks" is clear in the "freeze to death" comment, and the phoney enthusiasm.
Doug: "Yeah. It's just like that song. You know, 'I get knocked down', except I get up again in North Dakota, which is the worse place on Earth." No passive-aggressiveness. No phoney enthusiasm. A stark statement.
Earlier in the film, during the Ideal phase, Violet is video messaging with her London-based grandparents on the computer. One of the grandfathers tells her she should be married in London, saying something about being married where you were born. This statement, on the surface, shows off the traditionalist views of the older generation. Some people may find this funny. In regard to this assessment, the statement is another moment of location having meaning. I don't really have anywhere to go with this point. It's just that, again, there's importance placed on location.
While Tom and Violet have peaks and valleys, while they ebb and swell, they don't really grow.
Tom falls apart. But he's not fundamentally altered. He's just upset and depressed. At the end of the movie Tom is the Tom from the start of the movie.
Violet gets involved with her work at the University of Michigan. She's focused on her career and her new group of friends. Throughout the movie, she's pretty much Violet.
If anyone changes, it's Alex (Chris Pratt). I would argue this is less a dramatic/drastic change than natural maturation.
One of the subplots of the film is the development of Alex and Violet's sister Suzie (Alison Brie). They are portrayed as the "fuck ups" during the Ideal phase. Then they sleep together, Suzie is knocked up, they get married, and Alex sings "Cucurrucucu Paloma" at the conclusion of the wedding ceremony and changes the perception everyone there has of him (who knew he was capable of something like this?!?!?!). Alex and Suzie then have the life Tom expected to have: married, working as an executive chef in San Francisco, with kids, and, by all appearances, in love.
What we see then, over and over, are characters whose lives are impacted by location.
The supporting characters in San Francisco are happy.
The supporting characters in Ann Arbor are middling, weird, unfulfilled. (Ifans is successful but loveless; the other post-doc students (Hart, Kaling, Park) are only ever portrayed as strange, strange, and strange; Bill (Parnell) knits awful sweaters and is nice but portrayed as a little socially out-of-the-loop and has no career ambition (god forbid); and Tarquin (Posehn) seems content enough, is nice enough, but is also socially not-so-stellar and lacks career ambition (oh no); and there are constantly shirtless college guys running around).
And the one character going to Grand Forks, North Dakota, is prophesied to die.
This progression, San Francisco to Ann Arbor to Grand Forks, shows us going from
a population of: 800,000, to a population of 100,000 to a population of 50,000.
We go from bustling, forward thinking metropolis on the West Coast, to college town in the Midwest, to, uh, well, North Dakota...
And what we see, tone-wise, is:
Life in San Francisco: awesome!
Life in Ann Arbor: terrible!
Life in Grand Forks: might as well be death!
When Violet and Tom reconnect, it's in England, in Violet's homeland. We can make an argument about this being metaphorical for "starting at the beginning". Then the characters return to San Francisco and are happy and content again.
Do we get a scene of them happy in Michigan? No. While pure happy moments exist in San Francisco, there is no "this is 100% nice" moment in Michigan (think about the scene where Violet wants to get weird with Segel on the pile of snow: Violet jumps and lands nicely, Segel lands on a fire hydrant). Sure, Violet is offered an associate professor position at the University of Michigan. And this should be a great moment for her, but it's undercut by Winton having influenced the selection to make sure Violet received the position. In other words, Violet didn't earn the job.
We don't even know, when the movie ends, if Violet's going back to Michigan or not.
So, all things considered. We don't have a single instance of "Aren't we happy here?" in Michigan. Which means The Five-Year Engagement is going out of its way--in plot, in dialogue, in cinematography, and in editing--to show that Michigan sucks.
The counter-argument is that Tom was passive. In San Francisco, he had been a sous chef, not an executive chef, and was content with that. And while he was going to be the executive chef at Clam Bar, the head chef of his current job was going to give him that position. When Tom arrives in Ann Arbor, he wants other people to hire him. He never says: "I should open a restaurant here!" He's content to serve. Instead of trying to act on Ann Arbor, he slips into the culture (and is consequently portrayed as a sloven weirdo). It isn't until he returns to San Francisco and Alex (motivationally) fires Tom that Tom decides to "do his own thing" and starts his taco truck business. And he's successful!
Had he done something similar in Michigan, would Michigan had turned out differently for Violet and Tom? He tells Violet, right before the wedding, that he'd go back to Michigan with her and continue his taco truck business. So maybe they can be happy in Michigan (because in this movie happiness depends almost entirely on career)?
This counter-argument is, I think, accurate. A mature, "I have to take action to get what I want" Tom may have made the first round in Michigan work. But because he was flawed Michigan didn't work.
So maybe the unhappiness pervading the characters in Michigan isn't Michigan's fault. Nonetheless, the characters perceive Michigan as a dream-ruiner, and the state has no redemptive moment.
Does Michigan actually suck? The Five-Year Engagement seems thinks so.
Did I Like It:
Yes. Not nearly as much as I had hoped. I sort of had a huge crush on Forgetting Sarah Marshall for a really long time. And was hoping to crush the same on this film. Eh.
I was amused throughout. Emily Blunt charmed my socks off.
Chris Pratt reminded me of the one guy from She's Out of My League: T.J. Miller.
I don't think I went HAHAHA at any point. I agree with the 64% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Hart, Kaling, and Park made me feel weird rather than like laughing.
No complaints about the length. Some critics have discussed how the length of the movie seems fitting given the stagnation of the characters' engagement. I think that's accurate. And I'm all about form emulating theme and plot dynamics.
Other critics said they think it'd be better if it were shorter. One said to cut down the time from 124 to 90. I don't know if I agree with that. You would streamline the movie. But I think this completely changes the viewer's emotional response, because we wouldn't be spending so much time with these characters. It's like Funny People. Could it have been shorter? Sure. But would the emotional payoff be as high? No. Some people may be okay with that. But one of my rules of thumb is emotional response is better than streamlining.
This rule does not apply to Transformers: Dark of the Moon because that movie isn't building emotions, it's being fucking stupid.
I don't know if I have anything else to say?
Oh. Forgetting Sarah Marshall did a similar thing with location. Hawaii is used as a retreat. At one point, Kristen Bell says about Hawaii that she thinks it's only good for a week, is a place people come to escape from their problems or avoid real life (that's a paraphrase). Even though Mila Kunis responds by saying "I like it here" after making out with Jason Segel, Kunis ends up in LA, ready to start a relationship with Segel. What we see: locations serve a purpose. And Sarah Marshall was also written by Stoller and Segel.
What It's Good For:
-fans of Segel and Brie
-people who hate Michigan
-Ohio State fans
-people not from the Midwest who think the Midwest is weird
-annoying people who live in Michigan
-insulting restaurants in Ann Arbor
-lesson for screenwriters in how to avoid or twist most rom-com cliches
-validating if you're from or live in San Fran
-length could bother people
-if you're Michelle Williams or John Krasinski, you have to watch your significant other kiss someone else a lot
-insulting if you're from Michigan
-really insulting if you're from North Dakota
% Character / % Actor's personality
-Stoller: Forgetting Sarah Marshall; Get Him to the Greek
-Segel: Forgetting Sarah Marshall; The Muppets
-Blunt: The Devil Wears Prada; The Adjustment Bureau; Gulliver's Travels; Dan in Real Life
-Pratt: Moneyball; Bride Wars; Jennifer's Body; Take Me Home Tonight
-Engagement movies: While You Were Sleeping; Meet the Parents; Runaway Bride
-Films in Michigan: 30: Minutes or Less; American Pie (series); Beverly Hills Cop (series); Gran Torino; Raging Bull(?)