Monday, August 13, 2012

DVD Review: The Vow

In an age where marriages end faster than a mid-afternoon nap, its nice that a movie comes along that extolls the virtues of not only the romance of marriage but the underlying commitment at the heart of the relationship. And that's the best compliment I can give this movie. It's nice that it exists. In principle.

The movie centers around a married couple, Paige and Leo (played by Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum). The movie is told mostly from Leo's perspective and he narrates to the us the story of their love. They are young hipsters, who look like they are living inside of an Urban Outfitter's catalogue, living in idyllic squalor in downtown Chicago. They have little as they pursue their artistic pursuits but they have each other so they are happy. But one day a chance accident causes Paige brain damage, thus removing her entire memory of her married life. Her estranged parents arrive (played by Sam Neil and Jessica Lange) to try to take her away from Leo. The problem is that Paige is two people. In her mind she is a law school student who is close to her wealthy family and engaged to the successful Jeremy (Scott Speedman). But in reality she is someone who has broken off with her parents and Jeremy and is making her living as an artist with her too cool for school husband. As if to underline this point, there is a scene where Leo describes the musicians he likes with great enthusiasm, and the coolness gap between he and Paige's parents is so large that they stare at him as if antlers just grew out of his temples.

And this scene underlines the essential problem with the film. All of the characters are one dimensional There is no real dramatic tension, because the film makers make it clear that Paige's parents are bad for her and Leo is good for her. Jeremy is so smarmy that he presents no emotional obstacle for the audience. None of the characters given enough depth so that we can empathize with them, even if we don't agree with them. This makes for a very flat, uninteresting story because we are supposed to feel, without a doubt, that Paige and Leo belong with each other.

But this also is problematic because neither character shows a lot of moral courage. Granted that Paige is going through a trauma, but she treats Leo with such suspicious hostility that it makes it difficult to watch sometimes. She acts oblivious to how difficult it must be to love someone who doesn't remember you. I don't blame McAdams for this, since she is actually a very fine actress. She does the most with what she's given in the script, but even she can't make it fly. Tatum is not a bad actor, but he also doesn't show us anything special either. He whines all the time and keeps trying to get her to snap out of her amnesia. He keeps telling her to behave the way she did before the accident, like staying away from meat, even though her amnesic self is not a vegetarian. When he does say that he wants to take her out on a “first date” to get to know the new Paige, he takes her to all of their old hang out spots. How is this respecting the fact that SHE CAN'T REMEMBER ANYTHING ABOUT YOU? After awhile, I found myself caring less and less if they got together because when they were together they grated against each other like nails and a chalkboard.

Director Michael Sucksy does what he can, but the story lacks anything that can pull you in. I am loathe to do this, but I am going to put forth a way to make the movie much more interesting: Tell the story from Paige's perspective. After the accident in the opening of the film, Leo tells us how he and Paige met. Thus, our understanding of Paige's identity is framed around her relationship to Leo.

But what if instead, started the movie with Paige: in law school, with her family, happily engaged. And then out of nowhere, her life skips ahead five years. She wakes up in a hospital and is told that not only is she out of law school, estranged from her parents, and no longer with Jeremy, she is married to seemingly nice total stranger. This would put us, the audience, in a real emotional conundrum. We see her happy with Jeremy, but we know she has made a commitment to this new guy Leo. Which way will she go? Does she follow how she feels at this moment or honor a commitment she no longer remembers by exploring a relationship with her husband? That is a much more interesting movie, but sadly one that was not made.

The Vow has a few unforeseen turns, but it cannot make up for the fact that while the subject matter of marriage is deep, the movie is shallow.

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