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Posted on Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Ann Arbor movie 'The Five Year Engagement' is lovable, despite its flaws

By Jenn McKee


Jason Segel and Emily Blunt in a downtown Ann Arbor scene from "The Five Year Engagement."

Universal Pictures

What did you think of the movie? Leave a comment and / or vote in the poll at the end of this post.

As the title implies, “The Five Year Engagement” focuses on a couple’s long, bumpy path to the altar.

Indeed, a proposal scene between Tom (Jason Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt) opens the film—which was filmed primarily in Ann Arbor in 2011—and what follows is a bloated, sometimes funny and charming, sometimes flat exploration of what happens when grown-up realities and ambitions butt heads with romance.

Tom, a sous chef in San Francisco, is on the verge of being named head chef at a new restaurant when he proposes, and Violet receives an acceptance letter for a two-year graduate program in psychology at the University of Michigan. Believing he can be a chef anywhere, Tom supportively agrees to move to Ann Arbor with Violet and postpone their wedding. (Attempting a long-distance relationship is never even discussed, strangely, despite the seemingly finite nature of Violet’s stay in Ann Arbor.)

But when Tom starts looking for a job in Michigan restaurants, he’s laughed at—in a segment that’s too long for its own good—until he lands a job at Zingerman’s, where it quickly becomes clear that while Violet is getting closer to her dream, Tom is getting further and further away from his.

What’s appealing about “Engagement”’s premise is that it complicates the promise of unadulterated happiness that’s usually implied once the question is popped in a rom-com. For many people, readiness for marriage occurs at a time when a person is also still building a career, and the hard truth is that it’s rare that both parties in a relationship can have their “dream job” while residing in the exact same part of the world. “Engagement” reaps tension and laughs from this all-too-common conflict.

Yet this doesn’t, by itself, mean that the film innovatively breaks from the basic rom-com template (and its accompanying cliches). There are, inevitably, quirky minor characters with weird interests. Violet’s fellow grad students—and facets of academia in general—are drawn in reductive, broad strokes, and some sidelined comic firepower (Mindy Kaling, for instance) feels underutilized. Tom’s friends, meanwhile, include faculty husband Chris Parnell, a cartoonish cautionary figure who spends his time knitting sweaters; and co-worker Brian Posehn, a bizarrely eccentric pickle aficionado.

These last two play a larger role during a segment of the movie when Segel grows increasingly depressed, losing himself in giant sideburns, hunting, beekeeping and mead-making. (Locals may feel that Tom’s hobbies condescendingly suggest that Michigan residents are outdoorsy, off-the-grid flakes—depending on how sensitive one is to such suggestions.)

Segel and Blunt are generally likable and sympathetic, but stealing several scenes is Alison Brie, who plays Violet’s sister, Suzie. She makes the expected tearing-up-during-an-engagement-party-toast hilarious; and she also provides, with Blunt, what is arguably the movie’s funniest scene: a very adult conversation performed in the voices of Elmo and Cookie Monster.

The moment works because it collapses adulthood and childhood in a way that’s aligned with the movie’s themes. And when the movie succeeds, as it often does, it does so by way of such fresh approaches to an old genre (including the end, which has a breathless sense of fun about it).

But with a running time of more than 2 hours, “Engagement” feels over-long, thanks largely to some labored comedy bits. Director Nick Stoller could have made the film more polished, sharp, and funny by way of some liberal editing; yet just as happens in relationships, you’ll probably be able to fall for “Engagement,” despite seeing its flaws plainly.

Check out previous coverage of "The Five Year Engagement."

Jenn McKee is the entertainment digital journalist for Reach her at or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.



Sat, Apr 28, 2012 : 4:10 a.m.

Since when is deer hunting season in Michigan in the spring-or so it seemed when the guys went hunting-this after the couple's winter arrival and in between a winter scene and the next fall scene? The producers should have checked. And since when do doctoral programs begin in January-or so it seemed because a winter scene was the first we saw upon their arrival in A2. Otherwise, I loved the great views of A2. It shows off the city well. The numerous winter scenes reminded me of what winter is normally around here-unlike this past mild winter. But overall I say the movie was only so-so. Better to wait for it on Netflix. It drags something awful in the third act before suddenly picking up and coming to a cute close.

Lemmy Caution

Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 3:39 p.m.

Typical Hollywood fluff, unfortunately. The unreality of it all really hurts its attempts to create drama and tension re: its central "struggle." Unreality: IF a Berkeley grad student and a chef could afford to live in that truly gorgeous apartment in San Francisco (one of US's most expensive cities to rent or own in) seen in the film, that means they have major source of extra cash for their time in Ann Arbor. If so, then he could have opened his own resto in Ann Arbor with that extra money. Shoot, he could buy a failing resto and make it into his own first-class joint. His fall into the sandwich-making upper proletariat is simply done to unrealistically create drama to feed the "Ann Arbor: Where Love Goes to Die" theme of acts 1 and 2. Almost every line from this film felt like a middling situation comedy on TV. Painting by numbers, here. Over the top lesbian chef: Check! Cute, funny, crazy black dude: Check! Weird, funny, crazy Asian dude: check! And so forth. Ureality: psychology postdocs don't run experiments: their research assistants do. C'mon people: do your homework. And a 25% correlation doesn't make sense. I love MICHIGAN 826 though! !! Great event. Middling film.


Fri, Apr 27, 2012 : 1:20 p.m.

Wait! They used the wrong tanks? That sucks. So we had the Americans fighting the Americans at Kasserine Pass?


Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 8:01 p.m.

While I haven't seen the movie yet I do have to criticize your review. Firstly, who is to say that he would not take such a position? Opening and/or running a restaurant takes a major commitment in time. Since her time in Ann Arbor was only for an finite amount of time it makes little sense for him to take on the challenge of running/owning a restaurant. Secondly, "upper proletariat"? What the heck does that even mean? There is no such thing as an upper proletariat. And who is to say that the man would not take the opportunity refresh himself by working at a deli. After all she is only in Ann Arbor for a short time span. This is not an implausible scenario. Finally, most people do not care that postdocs do not run their own experiments. That is an irrelevant detail. This isn't akin to using M-60 tanks as German Panzers as they used to do in 60's war movies. It is background detail that no one much cares about.


Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 2:01 p.m.

I don't care if the movie is good or bad. Jason Segal is such a dreamboat and I so want to see him buying a sandwich at Zingermans.


Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 12:24 p.m.

Did you see the movie??? Makes Ann Arbor seem like a cold wintry abyss, were the student at U of M only care about is masturbation experiments, old donuts, and feathering individuals while pouring blood on them...SAVE YOUR CASH!


Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 12:27 p.m.

Sounds pretty accurate to me.