'The Vow': True-love tug of war
By Stephanie Merry
Friday, Feb. 10, 2012
The romantic drama "The Vow" looks like the kind of annual Valentine's Day staple that arrives just as calls start flooding flower shops and chocolate bonbon displays invade your local CVS.
Not only do stars Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams know their way around tearful breakups and torrential reunions (Two words: "The Notebook"), but the plot also follows the familiar path of true love against all odds.
But don't be fooled. This is a war movie - a clash between The Bohemians and The WASPs.
Tatum plays Leo, who runs a recording studio and is married to sculptor Paige (McAdams). The perfectly matched free spirits take late-night dips in Lake Michigan, have tickle fights to relieve stress and host a pop-up wedding at the Art Institute of Chicago, much to the chagrin of the museum's security staff. They write their vows on takeout menus, naturally.
But after a car accident sends Paige through a windshield, she wakes up a different person. She reverts back to her former, humorless self - a person Leo never knew. Her memories from the past five years have been Windexed and replaced by a life in which she's a law student, engaged to a buttoned-up suit (Scott Speedman) and devoted to her now estranged parents. As for Leo, she assumes he's her doctor. (In her defense, his green V-neck T-shirt does look scrub-like.)
Thus begins the tug of war. Paige's parents urge her to return home to their Lake Forest mansion, while Leo begs her to stay in the city, in their record-filled one-bedroom. Given the priggish depiction of Paige's parents, the audience is clearly supposed to root for the wood-paneled Wagoneer over the Mercedes-Benz. Forget the filet mignon, the screenwriters seem to prescribe. Tofurkey is so much tastier.
It's a shame things are so black and white, because the movie has more promise - and more laughs - than trailers suggest. Tatum, while a bit deficient in the dramatic acting department, delivers some memorable quips. He and McAdams also have chemistry. Although Leo and Paige's pre-accident relationship is overly schmoopy (picture spontaneous care packages and secret messages written in blueberries), they create a winning couple.
If, on the spectrum of likability, Leo veers toward perfection, Paige's tight-lipped mother (Jessica Lange) and bully of a father (Sam Neill) are rooted at the other end of the line. They live in a nuance-free zone for most of the movie, a place where smiles go to die. Insights into these characters are delivered more through the carefully chosen inanimate objects that surround them than words or actions. Paige's mother might as well be a string of pearls; her father could have been played by the couple's dining room wallpaper, featuring fox-hunting scenes.
Similarly, the pendulum-like change in Paige tests credulity. When she dons a headband shortly after leaving the hospital, it seems intended to be a dark harbinger of Lilly Pulitzer dresses and Vera Bradley bags. But the variance between the pre- and post-accident woman transcends wardrobe; she is different in every way imaginable. Indeed, people might opt for a different look or trade in blueberry mojitos for craft brews. But aversions to loud music and tickling seem more deeply ingrained, as does one's penchant for joining the no-fun brigade.
The movie's brightest moments come during Leo and Paige's bright-eyed flirtations, as when he amusingly serenades his wife with Meatloaf's "I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)." The sum total of those scenes almost creates a good Valentine's Day movie. Just be sure to avert your eyes from the nasty carnage of war.