Monday, 12 August 2013

"The Five-Year Engagement"

I watched "The Five-Year Engagement" recently, and there are a few things about it that really irritated me. Richard thinks "it's just a movie" and I shouldn't get worked up about it, but my years of hanging out with film/media studies people in ICS have taught me that it's never just a movie. It reflects attitudes about gender roles and success and family, and it ends with some pretty terrible lessons. (Spoiler alert!)

At the start of the film, when Violet (Emily Blunt) is applying to post-doc fellowships, I was thrilled--"hey, that's me, that's something I'm doing in the near future!" It feels great to be represented--it's not very often that the lead female in a rom-com is a post-doc. Students in film are usually undergrads (or high school), and grad students in films are often in law school (Legally Blonde--where your knowledge of chemical hair treatments miraculously saves your reputation as a future lawyer) or med school (Patch Adams--where the only female student gets killed).

The main conflict is the idea that Tom (Jason Segal) gives up his career (he's poised to run his own restaurant in foodie-city San Francisco) to be with fiancee Violet at her post-doc in Michigan, and while he seems cool with it at first, he quickly resents it and goes crazy, and their relationship falls apart.

The idea that the man in a relationship could make career-related sacrifices (as women have always been expected to do) is refreshingly egalitarian, yes. But the fact that he goes nuts and they break up just reinforces the original stereotypic idea that men shouldn't sacrifice their career. Moreover, Chris Parnell's character makes an absolute mockery of the stay-at-home-dad/female breadwinner household arrangement. He knits (badly) and hunts (to gain back some of his masculinity?), and is just generally ridiculous. Violet's sister is a whole other mess that I won't bother to go into--"there is no right cookie, you just pick one and take a bite!" (her advice: nobody's perfect, so settle)

My main beef with the film, though, comes with the revelation that Violet was only given her post-doc project and offered a lecturer post because the Prof (Rhys Ifans) was attracted to her.

It was at this point that I hated the film and wanted my £5 back. She was never actually successful at all. She was just pretty. What a horrible message for women in academia. Meanwhile, after the break-up, Tom started his own business and became wildly successful. Violet was just fooling herself the whole time, and should never have been so silly as to presume to be the breadwinner. Tom's original plan didn't work out, but because he's now free from his flawed, emasculating relationship with a female post-doc, he found a successful alternative.

The film ends without any clear sense of where they'll live or what she'll do for a living, but we know 2 things--they're married and he's got his awesome taco van business. And they lived happily ever after...

I generally like Judd Apatow, Jason Segal, Emily Blunt, etc. so it was a disappointment...I was really glad to hear other reviews call this film sexist, too:
Bitch Flicks: 'The Five-Year Engagement:' Exploration of Gender ...

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