Everyone's a Critic
The Observer's culture blogThursday, May 17, 2012
FIVE YEAR ENGAGEMENT GETS OLD FAST, by Eve Silberman
Early on in the movie Five Year Engagement, my companion nudged me, and whispered, "You don't hunt deer in spring!"
"What?" I said, watching Jason Segel and Chris Parnell gleefully bagging a deer in a woodsy setting where, despite a few leaves on the ground, the trees were very green indeed.
"In Michigan, you hunt deer in fall!" she hissed.
Wow, did a big-time Hollywood production really bungle its fact-checking? But then this (mostly) filmed-in-Ann Arbor movie was already off to a bad start, grounded as it is in the dubious premise that talented San Francisco chef Tom Solomon (Segel) can't find a job commensurate to his talents in our dreary, rainy backwoods college town.
He's stuck here because fiancee and budding psychologist Violet Barnes (Emily Blunt) couldn't get into grad school in Berkeley. She had to settle for the U-M, and he's stuck making sandwiches at Zingerman's--portrayed as a ho-hum deli whose blase employees apparently dozed during Zingy's much-touted employee training program. (Ignored is Zingerman's Roadhouse, where chef Alex Young just won a prestigious James Beard award.)
"Poetic license!" say local fans of this film when they hear my chauvinistic complaints. But I'd cut director Nicholas Stoller more slack if this was a better movie. The plot promises something a little more interesting than typical rom-com fare. Tom and Violet become engaged at the start of the film, not, as is more typical, at the end. Well played by Segel and Blunt, Tom and Violet are a likable couple who genuinely seem to want each other to be happy. They think they can easily surmount old-time gender roles that, a generation ago, would have Violet instead following Tom. In one of the film's few genuinely moving moments, Violet bursts out passionately that she wants it all--making homemade pies, kids, a careers she loves.
Tom appears sympathetic and supportive. But Stoller (a protege of Judd Apatow, inventer of the R-rated rom-com) has made a movie so derivative and predictable the scenes seem old the minute they appear: the zany sets of parents from opposite backgrounds (hers hoity-toity English, his outspokenly Jewish); the egotistical prof Winton Childs (Rhys Ifans), who you know immediately will become Violet's lover; the bewildered couple's drive to the airport. Different bottle, same wine.
In fairness to Stoller, there are a few original touches, like the pink bunny costume Tom wears when he meets Violet (she's dressed as Princess Diana). I wasn't expecting the scene where Tom's employer in San Francisco slices off the tip of her finger. My friend and I flinched, but the twenty-somethings behind us laughed uproariously. Also unexpected: a would-be lovemaking session in the snow--something that, in thirty winters here, never once occurred to me.
The much publicized filming of this movie got Ann Arbor all Facebook shivery: people posting scenes of the shooting; reporting sightings of stars. One Facebook friend briefly appeared in a shot at Zingerman's, and told me if I didn't blink I'd see him. I didn't and did. It's just too bad that the fun of having Ann Arbor briefly bathed in Hollywood lights resulted in this forgettable piece of fluff.
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