Rachel McAdams, Channing Tatum, Sam Neill, Jessica Lange, Scott Speedman
Abby Kohn, Jason Katims, Marc Silverstein, Michael Sucsy, Stuart Sender
I'm almost embarrassed to acknowledge this, but it's true.
I have a romantic side.
I know. I know. That's not really why you read The Independent Critic. It's my wonderfully warped and jaded side that you most enjoy, and it's that side that seems to bring out my best writing. Truthfully, most of the time when Hollywood tries to go all warm and fuzzy the result ends up being syrupy, forced and gag-inducing.
Or, worse, it ends up like that godawful Valentine's Day.
Every so often, however, Hollywood manages to fashion together a story that works delivered by a cast that somehow manages to nail just the right tone to make the syrup just sweet enough and the relentlessly gooey center seem just adorably romantic.
The Vow isn't a perfect film. Heck, I'm not even completely convinced that The Vow is a good film. It is, however, a relentlessly romantic film for the relentlessly romantic or the relentlessly romantic wannabes who will be looking for just this type of film as Valentine's Day rolls around next week. These will be the same people who crowd the multiplexes with every new film based upon a Nicholas Sparks novel and, to a lesser degree, an older crowd not too far removed from the poetic romanticism of the Twilight novels (and to a lesser degree the films).
The Vow is based upon a true story, though it would be intriguing to know just how much of what ends up on the big screen is actually anything close to the truth. It's definitely a story that Nicholas Sparks would have been proud to have written. Leo (Channing Tatum) and Paige (Rachel McAdams) are madly in love even after four years of marriage. She's a sculptor estranged from her family after abandoning law school and moving to Chicago in favor of attending The Art Institute. He's a working class artistic type who has just opened up an independent recording studio as the film opens.
Have I mentioned they're in love?
It is not a spoiler to reveal that one snowy night, their car is rear-ended. Both are injured, but Paige is tossed forward through the windshield and ends up with a significant traumatic brain injury and loss of memory.
I suppose it's partial loss of memory. Paige can remember her parents, but can't remember being estranged from them. Paige can remember being in law school, but doesn't remember quitting. Paige can remember Jeremy (Scott Speedman), her ex-fiance' but can't remember that he's an ex.
Oh, and she can't remember Leo at all.
The Vow is neither as high on the drama, or melodrama, as would be most Nicholas Sparks inspired film nor is it a laugh-fest like the Adam Sandler film 50 First Dates, with which it shares similar thematic elements. The Vow is a light romantic film. It's light on the drama, light on the conflict and even light with its humor. Even without knowing the true story behind the film, there's little suspense as to where it's going and little concern even as Leo struggles time and again to maintain his role as husband in Paige's life as her family takes advantage of this little tragedy to re-establish a relationship that had been previously fractured.
The Vow is just the type of film that made America fall in love with Rachel McAdams, a beauty yet emotionally resonant actress who is as comfortable in British dramas as she is in silly American romantic comedies. McAdams has struggled mightily to gain her footing at the American box-office at times, too often choosing scripts far beneath her immense talents. While I'm not quite willing to say that The Vow is a film worthy of her, I can easily say that Paige is a character that seems tailor made for her wonderful abilities to be funny, sweet, romantic and tragically wounded. This is the type of role in which Hollywood has been thrusting Keira Knightley lately, often with mediocre results.
While Channing Tatum isn't brilliant here, he's got a solid chemistry with McAdams and they make a believable match despite his charm being decidedly more blue collar. I wasn't bothered by his performance, though on more than one occasion I found myself contemplating others who could have likely been much more convincing and emotionally vulnerable in the role of a husband who finally accepts that the only way to save his marriage is to make his wife fall in love with him once again. As painful as it is to say, one has to admire Tatum's willingness to keep placing himself in films that require him to stretch and grow as an actor... and, believe it or not, he does continue to grow as an actor.
Sam Neill and Jessica Lange are both solid as Paige's parents, both of whom seem eerily joyful as their daughter seems to have no memory of the events leading up to their strained relationship. Lange, in particular, has one really awesome scene in the film that will remind you of her immense talent. Scott Speedman is here as Jeremy, a lawyer who has also moved on from Paige but also begins to see this new circumstance as a possible open door to rekindle their old flame.
On a certain level, The Vow is a paint-by-numbers romance yet it is a paint-by-numbers romance that will work for those who surrender to it.
The camera work by Rogier Stoffers is at times maddening, with the obligatory slo-mo shots stifling rather than enhancing the film's romantic spirit. There's a particularly gratuitous slo-mo shot of the car accident, which while not graphic is still wholly unnecessary and distracting. The original music by Rachel Portman and Michael Brook is your typical romantic drama original score, neither positively nor negatively impacting the film particularly.
Director Michael Sucsy, who directed the acclaimed Grey Gardens, wrings far more satisfaction out of this material than one might expect and the packed promo audience filled with mostly younger women here in Indianapolis largely seemed to embrace the film.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic