The Vow (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Vow (2012)

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I'm not naturally prone to cynicism, partly because the natural chemistry between some people overpowers my natural inclination to over-analyze.  There are some folks who are going to grow old together and be cute every step of the way.  From the moment they lay on blanket together cuddling in the shadow of a tree right up until they take a last walk hand-in-hand to the bakery they'll instill smiles and bits of envy.

I already knew Rachel McAdams could play one half of this kind of couple beautifully.  She's had knockout roles in The Notebook and Morning Glory, exemplifying the kind of bubbly optimism I love in my movies when it feels totally honest.  What's more surprising is the way Channing Tatum, he of the formerly wooden jowl, is able to portray bubbling happiness to the point of sheer audience joy.

Longtime readers will know I've been long suspicious of the talent Tannum brings to any project.  But with this film and 21 Jump Street I have to admit, I've been completely wrong about him.  Or, until this point, no directors have been able to find the qualities in him to bring out to an appreciative audience.

So now I have to wonder what kind of depths Steven Soderberg will draw out of him when that stripper film they made together comes out.  If a similar experiment with P.T. Anderson and Adam Sandler is any indication, it could cause my brain to go haywire.

The Vow is based on a possibly true story which, depending on how you lean philosophically and religiously, could have been made into a horror film in the vein of Mary Martha May Marlene.  The true story, some publications would have you believe, tells the story of a car accident, a woman who lost her memory, and a man who guided her back to their marriage through Jesus.  Instead we have a testament to the fundamental "you", the idea that your genetics and life-experiences help form a certain personality which potential mates react to.

The execution is still what sets this apart from the potentially creepy cult story and the nice tale of love it is.  There's a bit of hamfistedness at the beginning when Tannum's voice-over intones how the random collisions of life determine it's outcome.  True, when a chance encounter between two strangers in a DMV line leads to a cute first date it's fun to ponder.  But the concept stretches a bit when the first scene of the film involves the leads trying to get pregnant in an alley an ends with Paige (McAdams) flying headfirst into the windshield after an unfortunate collision with a snowplow.

Full disclosure: I was already in melodrama heaven at this point.

So the rest of the film watches McAdams and Tannum, both exhibiting the best chemistry I've seen in any pairing outside of Drive and WALL-E, trying to work through her sudden car accident memory loss.  The screenwriters then toss in a best friend Greek chorus of fedoras and scarfs, parents as WASP-y as they are outsized in their high class personalities, and an eclectic array of great indie pop to round out the landscape.

If it were not for the immense goodwill carried by McAdams and Tatum, none of this would have worked.  I was still grateful for the presence of Sam Neill and Jessica Lange, who add a touch of traditional theatricality to the proceedings.  Lange, in particular, continues to build a nice resurgence in melodrama with her quieter take on the long suffering housewife and Neill resounds menace as the stereotypical lawyer.

At this point if you're not already in sympathy with the kind of film this is, don't bother.  It's still not the kind of heavy handed melodrama Tatum tried before with Dear John, and not nearly as sopping wet with gigantic emotion in The Notebook (as much as I do love it).  This is a fun kind of melodrama, the kind that has faith in humans to be able to find their counterpart as an extension of themselves, without having to result to tradition or rules to bring them together.

It's another lovely lie.  There is no core self, no sustaining identity beyond the present which could stand catastrophe.  But there they are, struggling to be something to one another, despite all logic to the contrary.  All it takes is a pair in honest love to convince us this is true.

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The Vow (2012)

Directed by Michael Sucsy.
Screenplay by Sucsy, Abby Kohn, and Marc Silverstein.
Starring Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum.

Posted by Andrew

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  1. The performances from and chemistry between McAdams and Tatum made this flick a lot better than it had any right to be, although I still think it fell for all of the usual sappy, romantic drama cliches. Good review Andrew.

    • Thanks for the comment Dan. I’m never going to say that this film is the essence of originality, but I think Rachel McAdams found the sweet-spot for well performed films that trek in familiar territory. So far I’ve loved The Notebook, Morning News, The Family Jewel, and now this.

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