I’ll start with this disclosure: I haven’t seen The Five-Year Engagement yet. And disclosure #2: When I said I haven’t seen it “yet,” I was being disingenuous. I will probably never see this movie, because at the heart of it is a huge, annoying lie about how a woman’s career can ruin her life.
Now, romantic comedies depend on putting trumped-up obstacles in the way of love. What if Harry and Sally had realized during the collegiate car ride in Act I that they were meant to be together? Or if no one had ever realized that Vivian was a prostitute and the Pretty Woman and her john just lived happily ever after? Or if Ben had used a condom in Knocked Up? But the obstacle in The Five-Year Engagement, which opens today, has to be one of the most frustrating ones in film history: The protagonist, Violet (Emily Blunt), gets a great position at a grad school in another state, and her fiance, Tom (Jason Segal), moves there with her.
And that’s it. Apparently, because the circumstances are not exactly as they imagined them, this couple is unable to get married. Here’s how one reviewer describes the epic dilemma of Violet and Tom:
“She’s offered a place at the University of Michigan, and while Tom renounces his promising culinary career in San Francisco to be with her, somehow the circumstances don’t seem so propitious for a wedding ceremony.”
And why are circumstances so unpropitious? Well, Tom’s promising career as a chef, which he leaves behind in San Francisco, doesn’t flourish in Michigan. He has to take a job making sandwiches. He resents being relegated to the role of faculty spouse (er, spouse-to-be). Poor Tom. His fiancee’s insistence on pursuing her career basically ruins his life, as NPR critic David Edelstein points out in his review. Edelstein calls the movie’s agenda “simplistic and retro” for punishing its female protagonist for having ambitions outside the home.
And there’s another problem with this anti-feminist plot line: If this couple is in love and actually wants to get married, then what’s stopping them? You don’t need to have your career path figured out to get married. You don’t need to have the perfect job, and neither does your fiance. You don’t need to be earning six figures. You don’t need to live in the city you’re going to settle in.
Now, you might need to do some of that if you’re going to have a huge, fancy wedding. And you might want it, regardless. But getting married if you want to be married is actually really simple. You can do it at the court house, or a little church, or in a backyard. You don’t have to invite everyone you know, or Pinterest your way to the perfect place-cards. All you have to do is say “yes.”
If a couple stays engaged for five years and can’t figure out how to get married that whole time, they can’t blame their careers. In fact, I’d say they weren’t really engaged to begin with.