Amnesia in films has been used for years. And why not? The concept of people struggling with a lost reality as perceived through the eyes of those they come in contact with is an interesting one. So it’s of little surprise that great films like Memento, Vanilla Sky, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind all put the concept to great use. Hell, I even hold a special place in my heart for The Long Kiss Goodnight. Go ahead and laugh, but you can’t beat Samuel L. Jackson, Craig Bierko, and Geena Davis (who is hotter then she’s ever been in this film) blowing stuff up. But I digress. Of all the great amnesia films out there, the genre that seems to get the most use out of it is the romantic comedy. Films like While You Were Sleeping and 50 First Dates successfully employed this particular medical malady as did Overboard, a film which remains one of the greatest romantic comedies ever made. This weekend, Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams join the fray with The Vow.
Leo (Tatum) and Paige (McAdams) are a young married couple who are hopelessly in love. He owns a recording studio, she’s a successful sculptor and their life together is just beginning when a truck plows into the back of their car on a snowy night in Chicago. When Leo comes to, he finds that although he survived with minor cuts and bruises, Paige has not been so lucky. While her body has survived the accident, her mind hasn’t been so lucky. Paige’s memory, it seems, has reset itself back to a period long before she met Leo. In her mind, she is still a law school student living with her parents (Jessica Lange and Sam “Motherfuckin” Neil) and engaged to a lawyer named Jeremy (Scott Speedman).
All of this is a big shock to Leo as Paige quit law school, dumped Jeremy, and cut off communication with her family years before they ever met and fell in love. Paige’s parent see this as a chance to recreate the perfect life they used to have and the battle between Paige’s two different lives begin. Paige acknowledges that Leo must be telling her the truth (after all, he bas evidence in the form of videos, photos, voicemails, etc.), but finds comfort in what she knows which is the life she was living in her college years. Struggling with her parents, his own frustration and her memories, Leo does his best to reacquaint her with the person she has been the past few years. But can he make his wife fall in love with him again?
In the early moments of the film (before the memory loss), McAdams and Tatum do a fantastic job of being sweet and dreamy, but as the film moves along, things seem to fall apart. I have always liked Rachel McAdams. Its hard not to. She has one of the warmest, sweetest smiles in Hollywood and eyes that reflect her emotion in a way you can’t fake. While she does a fine job of bringing emotional depth to the part, Tatum clearly struggles to keep up. A lot of people seem to rip on Tatum a lot and I’m not one of those people. He has his place in film, but you have to know what part that is. Tatum is at his best being a stoic single-minded hero. Thats why he worked so well in films like The Eagle. But when thrown into a film like The Vow, he’s being done a disservice. Instead of coming off as stoic, he plays like a mayonnaise sandwich. He’s bland, boring and really really white. While McAdams is mustering up tears and emotional breakdowns to sell her frustration, Tatum is staring blankly at her and mumbling the words on the page. I don’t fault the guy. Emoting just isn’t his strong suit as an actor, but this keeps the audience from ever really getting emotionally involved in his story. As for the supporting cast, Neil is chilling and controlling (something he does really well every week on Alcatraz which you should all be watching) and Lange is just fine. Speedman is great casting as he manages to be both charming and a little evil at the same time and while his character is more opportunistic then evil, this quality makes it a little easier to side against him in the battle for Paige’s love. Personal favorite Sarah Carter also shows up for a little cameo in which she’s asked to do a lot in very short time, and she does a fantastic job, as always.
While I don’t have any real problems with first-time film director Michael Sucsy‘s camera work, I do have a bit of a problem with the tone he builds. This film is, theoretically, a romantic comedy. And while it does have many staples of a romantic comedy, it lacks any of the light and fluffy sense of fun we usually associate with the genre. While I fully support the concept of breaking convention, you need to be prepared to back up the decision by making that choice pay off. The Vow takes an unusually dramatic turn on the romantic comedy without tackling any of the issues that we really want to deal with in a more serious interpretation of the idea. Just imagine waking up one morning and realizing that since you fell asleep, five years have gone by and during that period you built relationships, friendships and made extreme life choices. There are people around you that you have no recollection of having ever met sharing intimate memories with you that you can’t remember. What does could that possibly feel like? And then to be told you were married. How do you come to terms that some person you’ve never met knows you at your most intimate? In my mind, the idea would feel a little like emotional, mental and physical rape. But instead of focusing on these concepts, the film tries to be light and fluffy while maintaining a serious tone, which just act to keep either from reaching emotional fruition. While I think a more serious interpretation of some stories have their place, The Vow wasn’t it. As a romantic comedy and a Valentine’s Day release, my gut says that Sucsy should have kept the execution a bit lighter and saved the drama for his next picture.
While it’s easy to read this review and think that I came out of The Vow hating it, you would be wrong. Its a mildly pleasant movie with some charming moments and a few good ideas. I really enjoyed seeing Paige use her second chance to right some of the wrongs she had made the first time around, but at the end of the day, the overwhelmingly dark tone and Tatum’s lackluster performance kept The Vow from living up to the films potential which left me just a little cold. The story is based on the true story of Kim and Krickitt Carpenter who are still married and blessed with two children, despite the fact that she never managed to recover the lost years. At the end of the day, Paige and Leo don’t seem to be on the same path and they are definitely no Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell.