Sunday, 4 March 2012

The Vow (2012)

There has been a fashion of films over the past decade which open with a car crash, and follow with those involved putting their lives back together. What I thought was a fad seems to be becoming a staple of cinema, and that's fine. The Vow does it exceptionally well. We are introduced to two lovers who are involved in a car accident, we see a sequence of flashbacks establishing them and their relationship (thankfully devoid of the trite old meet-cute I went into the theatre dreading), and from that point, Paige (Rachel McAdams) suffers from an amnesia erasing the past few years of her life and all the time she's spent with her lover Leo (Channing Tatum).

Amnesia is a plot devise as old as television itself, but The Vow handles it quite well. What begins as a fairly uninteresting chick-flick quickly grows a beard and challenges us to imagine how we the audience would react, and how we the audience would feel, if thrust into the same situation. Paige remembers her suburban, sweater-wearing law-school lifestyle, but is introduced to the fact she took a big turn and embraced a city-dwelling Bohemian hipster lifestyle some years before the accident, but cannot remember why. The antagonist characteristics of the parents early on set up what will be an inevitable clash between the two selves, and she must find her 'true' self, whatever that may be. As wooly as that may sound on paper, the story is remarkably engaging.

Missing from the film altogether is any sort of comic relief; Leo's straight-talking colleague needed to fill that role but unfortunately doesn't. I imagine she may have been written that way, with more dialogue in the original screenplay, but I suspect the director Michael Sucsy decided he wanted to make a more 'serious' film and toned her down. If my suspicion here is correct, he's made an awful decision. Poor wardrobe choices gave me a chuckle seeing some of the late-20s / early-30s male characters dressed as teenagers, but this was not by design. There's a blink-and-you'll miss it Facebook product placement which, upon noticing, I thought was cheekily funny, but again, that wasn't funny by design. Come the second half of the film, there is a good 45 minutes or possibly an hour of nothing more than heavy and important conversations, and before the climax it all becomes a little to much. I craved a little lemon juice, a little tartness or a little sharp humour to just cut through the thick molasses toffee of it all, and was left wanting.

My main criticism of this film is the casting choice of Channing Tatum. He is trying his best at it, but it's just awful. Most of the film's screen time is used for high-gravity situations requiring an exceptionally high standard of acting talent, and Tatum just cannot get there. Instead, we're compensated by seeing him shirtless on no less than six occasions, most of them pointless, and as a straight male, this is no compensation at all. Sam Neill as Paige's father really needed more screen time, as he does bring the talent and deftness of touch demanded by the gravity of the scenes, and there's a wonderful albeit short role from Jessica Lange which she carries off immensely well.

A fundamentally good film marred by a few poor choices, Rachel McAdams is and remains the heart of the film throughout. It represents one of the better films of the 'chick-flick' genre we'll see this year and ought to have some appeal to those who don't usually bother with chick-flicks.

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