Film Review: The Vow

Every year around Valentine’s Day, movie producers attempt to capitalise on the sentimentality of the romantic occasion, habitually turning out a gooey, feel-good flick that entertains starry-eyed idealists in droves. This year, Michael Sucsy looked to extend that tradition with his February 10th release of unashamed romantic dalliance The Vow.

Starring rom-com stalwart Rachel McAdams and a return to the genre for interim action star Channing Tatum, the film is based on the true events of a married couple who experience the trauma of memory loss, where a vehicular accident leaves McAdams’ character unable to remember the events of her life over the last several years including her marriage to Tatum’s character. What follows is the troubling circumstances that see Paige revert back to her old life with her estranged family and the efforts of her husband to remind her who he is, but more importantly who she really is.

It’s no surprise then with that premise that the film is a largely unchallenging and digestible piece of cinema, as it absolutely should be. The wedge is firmly driven between the couple, a few unsavoury characters are added to obstruct the way and ultimately the characters learn something about themselves. The film floats through plot points with ease while being sugary enough to give you diabetes, two key traits that rom-coms must aim for at the production stage. Where a movie like this often falls down though is rooted firmly in the scripting, and this is perhaps where it gets a bit rocky for The Vow. With a clear resemblance to Adam Sandler’s turn in 50 First Dates, this is blatantly rom-com 101 and is paint-by-numbers cinema in places. In this sense, it becomes hard to take the characters as anything more than hollow totems of people we’ve seen portrayed before. This problem becomes particularly significant when assessing Rachel McAdams’ character Paige in The Vow and her motivations.

Having gone through the trauma of losing her memory, she relies on her family rather than the guy she doesn’t recognise and is claiming to be her husband. That’s fine, and the revelation that she is estranged from her family is perfectly acceptable for coaxing out the drama. However, what takes you out of the moment entirely is when it is revealed that she was engaged to a different man who her post-accident brain draws her to again, drawing the ire of Tatum’s character. The movie begins to hint that the ex-fiancé is a lecherous dirt-bag, and the natural step to the story is for Paige to find out all over again that this man cheated on her, which would results in the break-up. Instead, nothing really occurs and the reason for the break-up was purely because she woke up one day and wanted to change her life. This is meant to perpetuate the idea that there’s one certain person for everybody, but really it just makes McAdams’ character look flighty, unpredictable and pretty much a harsh jerk. Follow this with some nonsensical conflict with an otherwise fine Sam Neill from Jurassic Park as her father and it leaves me wondering why the audience would want the likeable Tatum to get it together with her.

In contrast Tatum’s character comes across very well, which is to the film’s credit.  Told through his eyes, his performance in itself is competent, and is a clear indicator of where the successes of a film like The Vow truly lie. Tatum plays the role deftly and sedately, which makes the character amiable and most importantly relatable. Though it’s a reasonably simple role to play, Tatum plays it so normally that his character seems like a real person, albeit the relatively shallow person as this genre of film tends to create. The relativity of Tatum’s character is the shining ray of this movie, as it fulfils the concept that in order for a film to be half decent it needs a character that the audience can get behind and support.

Overall, the presentation of the film is swamped with the many hallmarks that show signs of your typical indie rom-com, and its blatant lack of show over that fact means it works on most fronts. There’s a section near the beginning that includes a tacky voiceover discussing Tatum’s character’s outlook on life being driven by ‘moments of impact’ that comes across as being very clichéd. This voiceover seemed very heavy-handed and though it can be taken in small doses, it’s a very fine line before becoming overkill. All in all, the film is decent, but it seems to want to be (500) Days of Summer in tone and indie-style so badly that it ignores the identity it could’ve forged on its own. In all honesty, The Vow is probably not one that will be remembered in a couple of years, but that’s not why it exists. It’s a comfy and mildly amusing distraction for an hour and a half, and that’s all it’s ever tried to be.

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~ by jrhett on February 20, 2012.

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