Most romantic comedies give me a headache because I spend so much time rolling my eyes at the cheesy dialogue and corny plots. It’s not that I hate love or despise happiness, I hate what stereotypical chick flick characters have to go through to get there. It’s usually 90 minutes of madcap hijinks, bridal showers gone wrong and dramatic love confessions in the pouring rain. That’s what made The Five-Year Engagement so wonderfully enjoyable to watch. It might be a romantic comedy, but it’s defintiely not a chick flick.
Violet Barnes (Emily Blunt) plays a determined academic willing to do what it takes to reach her dreams of completing a post-doctorate fellowship in psychology. Even if that means leaving her friends and family in California to attend graduate school at the University of Michigan. Her fiance Tom Solomon (Jason Segal) completely supports her decision and willingly leaves his thriving career to move to Michigan — despite there being nothing promising for him there besides a job at a glorifed college sub shop.
The movie follows the two as Violet tries to reach her dreams and Tom tries to adjust to life in Michigan. The more Violet thrives in academia, the more Tom falls into a depression. While you want this adorably cute couple to succeed, you also want Violet to continue on her path to success. And because you want both of these things to happen simultaneously and know that they can’t, you feel for both Violet and Tom in this situation.
At a press event for the movie, Emily Blunt says that what makes a relationship work is communication as well as having a purpose.
“If you’re in a relationship you have to talk to each other and you have to be forever generous and I think the best relationships that I’ve seen of my friends and hopefully the one I’m in is that you don’t clip each other’s wings, you have to really empower the other one to be everything and be everything they can be…I think both people need to have some kind of purpose and identity because you just don’t want to define yourself by an association with someone ever.”
Although Violet’s fully aware of the effects her career choices are having on Tom, she continues to pursue her goals wholeheartedly throughout the movie. Yes she feels for Tom and yes she sees how unhappy he is living in Michigan, but she’s not going to give up on something she’s worked for her entire life.
While that sounds incredibly selfish, it’s actually very refreshing to see in a romantic comedy. Violet does what’s best for Violet. Yes it’s not what’s best for Tom, but why should she give up her dreams to make Tom happy?
And that concept is what separate this movie from a stereotypical chick flick. So many women end up compromising their career goals, their personalities and their choices to land the guy. The hard-working career woman quits her job and learns to live spontaneously. The free spirit buckles down and applies for real jobs. The consistent message from chick flicks is you need to give something up to be with the one you one. The current you is undeserving and unworthy of love. Change yourself, change your clothes, change your career. Just change. Then maybe someone will find you attractive enough to fall in love with you.
At the same press event, Emily Blunt talks about how people ask her if Violet is “just selfish and career driven” for making Tom move to Michigan. She usually responds that “if the genders were reversed it would never be a question. It wouldn’t be an issue, it wouldn’t even be raised. ”
And it’s so true! Women never get the opportunity in movies like this to follow their dreams. Think of the classic rom-com of our generation, The Notebook. It’s Allie who has to change her life for Noah. Allie has to leave her fiance for Noah. He just has to sit there and wait for her to make up her mind. Yes, that’s simplifying the plot, but that’s the movie.
That’s not to say Violet doesn’t have to change throughout the film. She has to learn that not everything can be perfect and that waiting for the right moment to plan a wedding means there will never be a wedding. But she still gets to finish her postdoc at Michigan and she still gets the guy.
And that’s the message all Rom-Coms should send. You don’t have to give up what you want to get the guy.