The Big Career Lie At The Heart Of ‘The Five-Year Engagement’

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.

Share This Post:
    • Meghan

      It’s a refreshing change to see a romantic comedy where the woman’s career is put before the man’s. I don’t really see how that is anti-feminist. I think you’re failing to see that fact. Usually the woman gives up her life to move to wherever the man is and follow his career. It’s nice to see it the other way around for once.

      • Ruth Graham

        It IS refreshing, but in this case the woman is punished for it: Her relationship suffers because of her ambitions, and her fiance is essentially emasculated. So it’s one step forward, two steps back. (Apparently!)

      • Meghan

        Having seen the movie, and having moved all over the country for my career at the expense of my love life, I can say that this is something that actually happens, usually without the happy ending. It’s a legitimate problem to have career goals that don’t geographically intersect and it can make things fall apart.

        I still would much rather see a movie that shows a man following the woman’s career instead of the woman following the man’s. I still fail to see how this is anti-feminist.

    • Tania

      Based on previews, I had thought that the obstacles to their wedding were more things like the bride being shot in the leg by the flower girl playing at Hunger Games, deaths in the family, etc, rather than the move being the big “oh, no, she’s in school and now we can’t get married.”

      I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t say that the move isn’t one of the obstacles, but I don’t think it’s *the* obstacle.

    • Val

      I saw this movie on Friday and really liked it. I fail to see how it’s anti-feminist: The man gives up his job and moves to support his fiance who has just landed her dream job. Yes, their relationship suffers because he ends up being supremely unhappy there, but that’s life. I didn’t pick up any underlying message that she was being “punished” for pursuing her career goals.

      The scenario could play out the same way if the woman dropped her life and moved to follow the man (a much more “anti-feminist” scenario, in my book). Or with a same-sex couple! Any time one person gives up something important for another person, it opens to door to resentment – the test is whether you can move past it, which is what this couple struggles to do.