When you are little and you think that life has all these big plans for you, that in some manner you are special or chosen (oh come on, everyone thinks this. Why do you think Buffy and Harry Potter were so successful?), little do you bargain for the slow, painful line-up of moments that prove this not to be the case. Educational moments, character-forming moments, ridiculously sucky moments.
Yet there have been a few times when my life has resembled a movie, for example:
- Father of the Bride (1992): ‘Dad, I met a man in Rome and we’re getting married.’ OK, it wasn’t Rome, it was Florence but I did have this exact conversation with my dad once – the guy even had the same job as the fiancé in the film.
- Rock of Ages (2010) I was on holiday in New Orleans when some 80s rock god *cough – Tommy Lee –cough* kept tuning up wherever we went, I like to think he was stalking me. He did actually walk over to me at one point and I ran off squealing like a little girl – soooo mature.
These are pretty terrible films admittedly, but that’s OK. It’s when your life starts resembling an Oscar-worthy movie that you should be worried.
The world gives us so many challenges that are not celebrated despite the heroic way that we deal with them; death, serious illness, chronic illness, redundancy, bankruptcy. So many people take on these troubles with a strength that comes only from knowing that there is no other option. No wonder we crave celluloid escapism.
Over the past year, my married life has resembled a movie which in Michigan terms has proved divisive, The Five-Year Engagement. Overly long (like this post), moderately funny, and in our case so very true, the film sees an Anglo-American couple move to Michigan for career reasons only to see one partner succeed while the other flounders. I am the flounderer in our case. Just like Jason Segel, I have yet to find my career niche over here, find my homeland instantly preferable and retreat sulkily into my knitting. Home brewing is one Michigan step too far though.
To compound matters, we have just moved to the town where the movie is set, Ann Arbor. Home to the University of Michigan, a thriving restaurant and brewing scene, a liberal outlook and most importantly a successful infrastructure (no small thing after seeing the lack of it in Detroit and its suburbs)!
I think The Five-Year Engagement gives Ann Arbor a raw deal. Yes, Michigan is bleak and cold during the brutal Midwest winters, but the idea of a chef not being able to find work in AA is pretty laughable. Segel’s character eventually gets a job at Zingermann’s which is a deservedly lauded foodie empire (there is nothing at that deli which isn’t made from scratch and agonised over in terms of ingredients and food trends). As a chef, his character should be impressed.
He goes all back-woodsy, which doesn’t scream AA to me. He does start to brew which is definitely a Michigan pastime but in case you haven’t noticed it has become the American pastime too. Even in the UK, micro-brewing is taking off. He starts knitting (without using a tailor’s dummy, or blocking, or apparently using anything but mohair). I haven’t seen any really great yarn shops in AA yet (maybe the Metro-D has AA beaten on that account) but am open to suggestions. Segel’s character uses all the distractions he can think of to avoid taking a long hard look at himself and what would make him happier.
I like to think that Mr Segel wrote the story about any town that isn’t San Francisco/New York/ LA and then taking advantage of the Michigan Film Initiative, had to slot Ann Arbor in to that generic non-cosmopolitan role. Does he sometimes lie awake at night, wondering briefly if he gave AA a bad rap before plumping his money-filled pillow and sleeping like a baby? OK, that’s harsh. My brother-in-law actually met him during filming and said he came across as very decent.
The point is, maybe I, like Jason Segel in The Five Year Engagement, need to alter my outlook. We shouldn’t rely on places or people to save us, but harness what stands out where we are, and use it to drive us forward to a self-made happily ever after. Here goes…