Monday, February 20, 2012

At the Movies: The Vow

I was excited about seeing The Vow.  If there's a sappy romance serenaded by a Taylor Swift single out there, then I'm bound to turn up.

So, it was inevitable that I'd be at least a little disappointed.

The Vow is about newlyweds Paige (Rachel McAdams) and Leo (Channing Tatum).  She's a sculptor, he owns a recording studio, and the city of Chicago is their bohemian love nest.  But all of that changes when a car accident erases Paige's memory.  Reluctant to take up with a man she sees as a stranger, Paige forsakes Leo to lean on the parents that she she shut out before her marriage.  They're rich and respectable, everything that Leo isn't, and her time with them causes her to regress into the country club card-carrying law student she used to be.  This isn't new territory for McAdams.  The themes of wealth vs. poverty, convention vs. art, and safety vs. adventure run through other romances in which she has starred, such as The Time Traveler's Wife, The Notebook, and even, to an extent, Wedding Crashers.  As in these other movies, her character's decision about who she wants to be is inextricably intertwined with the man she ultimately chooses.  Yet while these elements make for a powerful combination in a classic like The Notebook, they fall a little flat in The Vow

For me, this was partly because Paige is so unlikeable.  I know it's not her fault; she's not in her right mind and can't help but parade around like some bitchy debutante while her heartbroken husband bends over backwards to help her.  Nevertheless, it's difficult to warm to Paige or even pull for her to regain her memory.   (Maybe this is a good place to say that Channing Tatum is, unbelievably, the best part of this movie.  Even if it is, as the bf so shrewdly pointed out to me in the theater, hard to take him seriously.)   Moreover, the movie's central conflict is between Paige and her parents instead of between Paige and her husband.  The secret of their estrangement overshadows the love story, diminishing its power and importance.  Finally, even the flashbacks showing Paige and Leo at their best hint that Leo was always a little more invested in the relationship than Paige.  This, compounded by the fact that the couple hadn't been together long at the time of the accident, made me wonder if maybe they weren't meant to be after all.

I began this cinematic journey as a starry-eyed optimist and ended up as a cold-hearted cynic.  Which is not something I'm proud of.  I'd signed up for the gooeyness, after all, and had been prepared to get all teary-eyed over a box-office success most were sure to criticize.  Little did I know I'd become one of the haters.  Still, The Vow made me think (a little) and made me (moderately) angry, so I guess it couldn't have been all that bad.   

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