When he first street-danced his way to stardom in Step Up, Channing Tatum read as little more than sentient six-pack, vacantly mumbling his way through that film and the obligatory star vehicles that followed. Then, a few flicks ago, something unexpected happened: his empty stare started giving way to a low-key charisma. The pretty boy who walked out of an Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue showed signs of developing into a vulnerable, relatable leading man. Due in no small part to the derision he was (and still is) subjected to, he’s also a believable underdog. It’s one of the reasons The Vow works better than most mainstream romances…some of the time, anyway. Hit the jump for our review of The Vow on Blu-ray.
We open on a magical winter’s eve, as a young bohemian couple exit a movie theatre. Leo (Tatum) owns an independent recording studio, Paige (Rachel McAdams) is an up-and-coming sculptor and they’re clearly head over heels for one another. Trying to get pregnant, in fact. But, as the saying goes, if you want to hear an out-of-control 18-wheeler laugh, tell it your plans.
A brutal accident gives way to sweet, fleeting glimpses of how their relationship came to be, as Tatum narrates philosophic about how we’re all just a collection of our most important moments. But when Paige opens her eyes, she’s a few moments short. The last thing she recalls is being in law school, engaged to a more successful man (non-CGI Scott Speedman) and still joined at the hip with her controlling parents (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange). Understandably reeling, she’s drawn to the warm glow of what came before, as her husband, now a stranger, fights for the life they’ve built together.
Director Michael Sucsy’s big-screen debut boasts a novel premise. And though heavy on the sap, it’s better than the slapped-together Nicholas Sparks adaptations that coast by solely on the base appeal of two pretty celebs hooking up. In part, this is due to the likeability of the two leads, particularly Tatum, who, as mentioned, easily earns our sympathies as a husband watching the woman he loves slip through his fingers.
Moreover, the script, co-written by Friday Night Lights creator Jason Katims, is peppered with quiet character moments that give the impression we’re not just going through the motions of a typical boy-meets-loses-and-wins back-girl story. Most of the time, Sucsy knows when to let the camera linger and spend a few extra seconds getting to know the people he’s asking us to invest in. Paige’s ex is separated from the cardboard cut-out he would be in a lesser film by one scene in which he and his confused ex-fiancée embrace and it’s clear simply from the look on his face how much their break-up devastated him.
In other ways the film is disappointingly conventional. Paige’s 180-degree transformation from adventurous artist to straight-laced law student is too neat, lacking the nuance that would make it believable and compelling. Rather than a condition that this couple must adapt to, it comes off as a device, an obstacle wedged between two characters that will inevitably be removed, leading to a tear-filled reunion on the roof of a skyscraper. This makes much of the drama that pops up along the way fall flat.
Gradually things start to feel too familiar, with the filmmakers ultimately choosing a path we’ve been down countless times before in this genre. The final act is actually kind of jarring in how artlessly it checks off the clichés. By the time the credits role, we end up with a fairly run-of-the-mill rom-dram, all the more deflating for the earlier flashes of something more.
It’s as if The Vow tried to escape from the generic romance factory, only to be shot in the back just as it hit the fence. I can’t recommend it for anyone but the most forgiving romantics. But I can commend it for trying to get out in the first place, when so many others are content to glide off the assembly line with a vacuous smile.
-Three ‘Making-of’ Featurettes