“Romance” is a curious genre in today’s cinema landscape. While it used to be a staple of the medium with films like Casablanca and Gone With the Wind, today the landscape is a little more bare. And what does remain? It’s usually not exactly of the highest quality.
Don’t misunderstand. We have plenty of romantic COMEDIES. In fact, almost all romantic films these days seem to be tainted by throwing in awful jokes or casting Katherine Heigl. But these days when a film devotes itself to nothing else but a love story, chances are there’s one man behind it: Nicholas Sparks.
The man has made an incredibly lucrative career writing books about love lost and love found, and many of the explicitly romantic movies out these days are adapted from his work. The Vow reunites two Sparks veterans, Rachael McAdams of The Notebook and Channing Tatum of Dear John and intertwines them in the most inescapably heartwrenching Sparks-ian plot to date, even if he actually wasn’t involved in the film.
This image alone would sell this movie to a million teenage girls.
Leo (Tatum) and Paige are happily married living in the north side of Chicago with her an artist and he a recording studio manager. Their world is shattered when a car accident causes Paige to lose a few years of a her memory, including her entire relationship and marriage with Leo. The last thing she remembers is being a yuppie princess engaged to a former love, but has forgotten whatever happened to make her a vegetarian hipster who fell hard and fast for Leo. He must do everything in his power to make her love him all over again, a hard bargain when she seems to embrace her old life and treat him like a total stranger.
It would be easy to criticize the plot for being a bit too soap opera, but it should be noted that the concept is based on a true story about a man who lost his wife to memory loss and had to try to win her back despite her remembering nothing of him. The rest of the details are obviously fictionalized to make it all the more dramatic, but it’s not completely plucked out of the realm of implausibility.
The resulting story is heartbreaking at Every. Single. Turn. Overwhelmingly so. It rarely feels like a love story, as only one half of the people onscreen is in love while the other can barely make sense of the world around her. There are sweet bits to be sure, but it’s overwhelmingly tragic for the lion’s share, something that Sparks particularly excels at.
“But where’s the part in my life photo collage where I bought these terrible pants?”
Rachel McAdams was built for movies like these, and as this is her second one in the exact genre, really has the hang of it. She has actual depth as an actress in the film, something I’m not sure a Heigl or Hudson or Biel would be able to pull off. But her transformation from loving to skeptical and hipster to rich girl does involve a chops on her part, and there’s a reason she keeps landing roles like this.
Meanwhile, Channing Tatum has never really won males like myself over, as despite appearances in GI Joe and Haywire, he’s always going to be that guy from Step Up, Dear John and now, The Vow. But the film forces you to empathize with him as he’s just in a harder situation than anyone could almost ever imagine. Death is one thing, but for the person you love to still exist and not know you? It’s almost worse. “Frustration” is the emotion Tatum must master here in almost every scene, interspersed with depression and a few brief moments of happiness. His signature look of “confused” does come up a bit too often, however. His Leo is the ideal man to a fault, doing the right thing in almost every single situation, and if he can even be endearing to me, it’s no wonder that girls and their moms (and my girlfriend) all swoon for him.
I’m surprised they didn’t give him ironic eyeglasses too.
The pair has good chemistry when they’re actually allowed to have it, but then they’re forced to be awkward for the duration so it’s kind of hard to say if they really are an effective couple. The love story is incredible (on a factual level), but it’s difficult to say if The Vow will be remembered for any duration after this film’s release.
Parts of the film seem a bit too obvious and shallow. Paige’s family couldn’t be more of a rich snob stereotype circus if they tried. Leo loses his temper in the exact moments you expect him to, and even with an unusual story, it still manages to be predictable.
All that said, it’s not an offensive entry into a genre that is shrinking quickly. It’s not as epic as Titanic or as understated as Once, but it’s a worthwhile film you can probably appreciate if there’s someone you love in your life.
3 out of 5 stars