The director and numerous writers would have served their audience well by studying the great love stories before clumsily throwing together their half-hearted final product.
A genuine love story is very hard to pull off for most filmmakers. Love it or hate it, The Notebook works because of the high stakes faced by the characters and the believable motivations that drive them. Though a facile attempt at romance, Titanic was, and still is, adored by so many because of the timeless Romeo and Juliet barriers faced by the two young lovers. The director and numerous writers (more on that later) of The Vow would have served themselves and their audience well by studying the great love stories (Casablanca, Brokeback Mountain) before clumsily throwing together their half-hearted final product.
Though it is based on a true story, The Vow feels as arbitrary as any romance that’s come out ofHollywood in the last decade. Paige (Rachel McAdams) and Leo (Channing Tatum) are a young married couple who clearly love each other. After a terrible car accident, Paige goes into a coma and, when she wakes up, doesn’t recognize Leo or remember anything since she was in law school, long before they met. Leo is heartbroken but does his best to comfort Paige and be patient as she adjusts to the knowledge that they are married.
Things get difficult for the couple when Paige’s parents Bill (Sam Neill) and Rita (Jessica Lange) arrive at the hospital. Paige hadn’t spoken to her parents in a long time, but since she doesn’t remember the years leading up to the accident, they are the only people around whom she feels comfortable. Though he tries to introduce her to the life they created together, Leo can’t convince Paige that it is her reality now, and she reverts back to who she was in law school within her parents’ very wealthy world. Leo sees her slipping away so he does everything he can to make her fall in love with him all over again, retracing the origins of their relationship in a desperate attempt to keep her.
Director Michael Sucsy does his best to present the story in a way that captures the couples’ love and Leo’s determination to keep his wife. Though there are some serious issues with editing and pacing, Sucsy does a decent job considering the bland material from which he must work. What he should have been smart enough to excise is Leo’s ethereal voiceover narration that bookends the film. Voiceovers are rarely necessary and often over-explain to the audience what should be gleaned from the film itself. (See the terrible studio cuts of Blade Runner and Dark City for examples of how much of an impediment voiceovers can be.)
A good rule of thumb for moviegoers is if there are more than three writers credited, chances are the film is going to be pretty bad. The Vow has four writers, including a “story by” credit for Stuart Sender, which means that Marc Silverstein, Abby Kohn, and Sucsy himself rewrote the original script multiple times based on notes from the studio. The result is a movie that can’t quite find its tone and progresses in a stilted and awkward manner. The story has very little forward momentum and would be almost confusing if we weren’t already able to surmise the inevitable ending.
McAdams, who is usually terrific, appears to not be trying at all. Though Paige goes through a complete personality change after her amnesia, McAdams in no way distinguishes the two personas from one another. She is the same person before the accident as she is afterward; she just delivers different dialogue. Tatum, a rising star who will be practically omnipresent in 2012, is unable to stretch his skills enough to make him a believable leading man in a romantic film. If you need someone to dance up a storm or crack some skulls, Tatum is your man, but as a sensitive, desperate husband, he is sadly underwhelming.
The Vow knows who its audience is and will likely be sufficient to meet their expectations. As a film, though, it fails on nearly every level, and ultimately feels uninspired and unnecessary. | Matthew Newlin