Thursday, October 11, 2012

Weddings Aren't Marriages (The Five Year Engagement)

Like most people on this planet, I have no particular beef with marriage. I think it can be good, or bad, depending on the people in it. I think it can be an amazing spiritual agreement, or just a legal contract regarding the distribution of property. I’d like to have one some day, but I don’t lose much sleep over the subject.

In a way, though, this makes me exactly opposed to the target audience for The Five Year Engagement. Not because it’s a movie that hates marriage, no, on the contrary, because it’s a movie that is obsessed with it.

The film starts with the engagement of our two main lovebirds: Violet (Emily Blunt) and Tom (Jason Segel). Already it’s off to a good start, with a hilarious proposal, wacky hijinks, and Chris Pratt. The film meanders for a moment or two, taking us through their loving wedding preparations, and a few more awesome comedic actors (like Allison Brie and Chris Parnell). But of course, our lovers are foiled in their attempts to tie the knot when Violet receives a job offer in Michigan, and Tom agrees to follow her in support. Naturally this means they have to call off the wedding for a while.

You probably already know the rest of this. Tom hates Michigan, Violet loves her job, argue argue argue, traditional romcom split up. Now, SPOILERS, in this they actually did split up for a fairly lengthy time. In movie I think we were supposed to understand it was a year. But eventually they realize that they still love each other and have to be together, damn the distance!

That’s sweet. Really. I was totally on board until the very end of this movie. Wanna guess why? It’s because they get married.

The movie ends with a wedding. Now, from the traditional romantic comedy angle, that’s all very nice and sweet. There’s a message about not waiting to figure everything out before the wedding, eventually you just decide that this is the person you want to be with, and assume that things will work themselves out.

Which is total bullshit.

Again, let me stress that I am all for marriage if it means something to you. My problem with this movie, though, is that it doesn’t seem to mean that much to Tom or Violet. It really seems to be more a matter of, “Well, all our friends are doing it, so I guess we should too.” Which is a terrible reason to get married.

In the beginning of the film, their desire to get married makes sense. They love each other and want to make their commitment official. Yay! But as the film goes on, their need to marry becomes less and less clear. When Tom is drowning in self-pity in Michigan, they’re clearly committed enough for him to feel incapable of leaving. When Violet cheats, it’s not any less of a betrayal than it would have been if they were married.

When they finally split up, it’s no less hassle than it would have been if they’d gotten divorced. There’s just less paperwork.

Which is why I ultimately don’t get why the movie had to end with a marriage. Oh, I understand it from a story perspective. The movie had primed you to feel all the warm and fuzzies from their spontaneous love declarations. It’s just that from a logic perspective, none of this makes any sense.

Why do Tom and Violet need to get married right this instant? I mean, again, I get that it’s supposed to be romantic, but it makes no sense. They have absolutely nothing figured out. They don’t know where they’re going to live. They’ve been broken up for the past year, for crying out loud! It makes no financial or emotional sense for them to get married when they’re still only barely getting back together.

The problem I have with this film is the problem I have with nearly every romantic comedy centered around a wedding. Namely, the wedding is really the least important part of your marriage. Or it should be. The wedding is the day you start, but the days after that are the important part. The compromises, the fights, the making-up, the sex, the lack of sex – that’s a marriage. The wedding is just the peanuts you get on your flight to some unknown country.

Tom and Violet already have a marriage of sorts for most of the film. Their commitment isn’t in doubt. Neither of them is religious enough to demand a wedding before they can live together, they’ve clearly shared their finances, and they don’t seem concerned about legal rights or tax issues. They’re not even worried about Violet’s immigration status.

From the cold logical side of things, Violet and Tom really don’t have a reason to get married. If they’re looking for commitment, they already have it. That’s just a matter of making a decision. Lots of married people aren’t committed, and lots of committed people aren’t married. So much of the film is devoted to the issue of when the wedding will happen that we manage to miss the fact that it doesn't matter. The marriage already is happening.

I think it’s great that Tom and Violet decide that they can work things out as they go, and that they want to spend the rest of their lives together. Good for them. I even like their decisions to take each other as is, and not worry about the future. Have fun. But I don't think a wedding is the solution here. What they really need is to actually sit down and talk about their feelings. Which is dull and uncinematic.

The Five Year Engagement is a very funny film that totally misses the point. It’s all about Tom and Violet’s various attempts to stumble down the aisle, missing the fact that that’s not really what a marriage is at all. It’s a fun movie, sure, but it’s not a very smart one.

Weddings aren’t marriages. If more people understood that, there would probably be fewer weddings, but better marriages.

They are the best things in this film. Also Allison Brie's Elmo impression is priceless.


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