Blame the specter of Nicholas Sparks, or perhaps a pressing need to pay the bills, but Rachel McAdams (The Notebook) and Channing Tatum (Dear John) are clogging up the screen with another vanilla romance. Sigh. We must be approaching Valentine’s Day.
Honestly, why, Rachel? Why? You were just in fabulous, scene-stealing form in Midnight in Paris, and you’re about to appear in the next Terrance Malick film for pity’s sake. Why are you regressing to The Notebook days?
And Channing, ok, you may not have quite the same pedigree (G.I Joe: Rise of the Cobra, The Eagle…*crickets*), but anyone who has seen A Guide to Recognising Your Saints knows you’ve got some dramatic chops, so what are you doing spouting inane narration about defining ‘moments of impact’ (in a story about a car crash… groundbreaking)?
But really, while there is very little to wow in The Vow, there’s nothing to be snide about either. The film may be entirely unafraid of predictability, but it’s sweet, shiny and well acted; essentially it delivers exactly what it says on the box. Moreover the film is ‘inspired’ by the story of a husband and wife who struggled to reconnect after she lost all memory of their relationship in the wake of a car accident. The fact that the story is grounded in such striking truth helps you from thinking you’ve accidently strayed into a Days of our Lives amnesia storyline.
The Hollywood version sees Paige (McAdams) and Leo (Tatum) as two pretty young artists, who meet cute at a Chicago DMV before settling down into hipster happiness. That is until a snowy car crash wipes the past five years from Paige’s memory, rendering Leo a stranger and her WASPy parents (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange) her preferred lifelines. Leo (unsubtly named for his lion heart) fights to win back her love, but in Paige’s mind she’s a promising law student who is engaged to a handsome businessman, Jeremy (Scott Speedman). Decisions decisions…
Except decisions are exactly what The Vow avoids. Not nearly enough time is given to the love triangle to make Jeremy a real threat, nor is the catalyst for Paige’s hipster makeover given much oxygen. One can’t help but feel that quite a few scenes with Speedman, Neill and Lange wound up on the cutting room floor.
Are you now wondering what on earth is Jessica Lange doing in The Vow? For that you can thank director Michael Sucsy, who collaborated with the actress in the Emmy award winning telemovie Grey Gardens. Here she seems embarrassingly underused, though her third act monologue is delivered to absolute perfection.
Indeed, given the film’s potential for cloying melodrama, Suscy impresses with his lightness of touch. In Tatum he finds hints of a goofball to ameliorate Leo’s impassioned desperation, while McAdams gets to trade on her likability to play standoffish and – head injuries aside – surprisingly unsympathetic to Leo’s plight. Sam Neill is rock solid as the patriarch gently reasserting his dominance over his prodigal daughter, and fellow Antipodean Jessica McNamee (Packed to the Rafters) makes a pleasing Hollywood debut as McAdams’ lookalike sister Gwen.
Much like a cookie-cutter wedding, The Vow makes all the right moves, with very few surprises. But ultimately the film resembles its hero, Leo: stylishly functional, good-hearted…
And totally unmemorable.
Australian release date: 9 February 2012