16 February 2012

HOW COULD WE KNOW THAT PROMISES END?

A love story in which a deeply affectionate and utterly functional couple is torn apart when one half of the pair has a huge chunk of memory sliced clean away in the blink of an eye, leaving her with a confused but relatively happy with her place in life, while her devoted husband is left to morn the effective death of a person who, to all appearances, is still standing right there in the same room; that is a hell of a concept, ripe with possibilities for little pieces of heartbreak and rich with human suffering. That's probably why the Alzheimer's drama Away from Her is so fantastic, and you should rent it at the first opportunity. The Vow, though, which takes that scenario and runs it through a pair of twentysomething Chicago hipsters rather than aging Canadians... The Vow kind of sucks. Not as much as it could have. Not, frankly, as much as I expected it to. But look for more than robustly-executed hokum here, and you look in vain.

On the other hand, The Vow made more money in the United States on Valentine's Day alone - a Tuesday, mind you - than Away from Her made during its entire theatrical run in the whole world. So capitalism is alive and well, at least.

Inspired by a true story - and for once, that's actually a fair charge, although only the plot hook remains of the truth - The Vow opens on a young married couple, Leo (Channing Tatum) and Paige (Rachel McAdams) stepping out of a movie theater on a snowy night - in fact, they are stepping out of Chicago's Music Box, which I firstly bring up because the Music Box is a special place to me, and I lived all of four minutes away from it at the time this film was shot; and secondly, because The Vow doesn't just take place in Chicago, it TAKES PLACE IN CHICAGO, with some of the most overbearing, insisted-upon establishing shots and second-unit photography of any film in recent memory. This goes beyond local flavor; it is garish, pornographic, and omnipresent. The Vow takes place in Chicago roughly as urgently as The Third Man takes place in Vienna, excepting that Vienna was there used as a symbol for the disunity and confusion of post-war Europe, while Chicago - and I say this as one whose love for that city can not in any way be called into dispute - is just a big American city that is functionally indistinguishable from most of the other big American cities. Also, most of The Vow was actually shot in Toronto.

Forgive me. Bitching about excessive second-unit photography is more fun than trying to work my way through the movie. At any rate, Paige starts getting playfully frisky in the car, and unbuckles her seat belt, just before they are hit by a truck from behind; she is thrown through the windshield in a silky, poetic slow-motion shot that suggests director Michael Sucsy has an enormously specific fetish for watching Rachel McAdams flying through a field of broken glass. This triggers - because this is a soap opera, at heart - a case of amnesia, with Paige's memory being reset five years, to a year before she ever even met Leo, and before she became a free-spirited bohemian artist; back when she was a law student at Fake Northwestern University, engaged to the singularly unappealing Jeremy, embodied with godlike unctuousness by Scott Speedman when he shows up to prey on the addled Paige.

Long story short, Paige is wedged firmly back in 2006, but is willing to let this stranger who obviously loves her prove that they have a rich history with each other; this he does with the aid of their sassy hipster friends, and against the wishes of her rich North Shore parents, played by an excessively thuggish Sam Neill and a positively reptilian Jessica Lange, both of whom get a fun Oscar clip scene that are the two highlights of a sluggish, but never outright bad movie.

No, that would take entirely too much personality, and that is in short supply. Screenwriters Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein have previously collaborated on He's Just Not That Into You and Valentine's Day, and that is approximately the level of maturity and subtlety that we are working with here, albeit in a new, wholly jokeless register. So it's really more colorless and drowsy than anything else; and this is compounded by the casting of Tatum, Hollywood's reigning prince of all things colorless and drowsy. It is, on the one hand, just about the best possible choice; Leo is the most perfect example of "The Channing Tatum Character" that Tatum has ever played on the other hand, this bit of casting absolutely dooms a movie that might possibly have been able to rise up the level of interesting diversion with an actor of substance in that part. McAdams, at any rate, does okay by herself; it's hard to imagine what a truly brilliant take on this character might look like, but McAdams is certainly more than good enough in her mixture of confusion and optimism and affection to put the character over. And if there was a male version of that performance opposite (maybe, I don't know, Jake Gyllenhaal), The Vow could have been a decent weeper. But Tatum is not equipped to deal with Leo's frequent philosophical voiceovers, which are thus rendered all the sillier than their shallow content ("Life is a series of moments" - for serious? Tell me more, Channing the Wise!), and he is even less equipped to deal with Leo's vulnerability and longing.

I'll say this, though: The Vow puts the lie for now and forever to any notion anyone might have had that Channing Tatum doesn't try. Holy Christ, does he ever try, harder than just about any other actor might have. You can have your Ryan Goslings over there, being effortless: Channing Tatum shows his work, and he so obviously wants to be a good actor, that it's kind of sweet. Not sweet and endearing, unless you are a teenage girl, maybe, but sweet; and if that's where our romantic melodramas have gotten us to, that we have to accept Tatum's earnest flop-sweat as the stuff of a leading man, then I don't know what. Apparently we don't deserve nice romantic dramas any more than we deserve nice romantic comedies, although at least a lousy drama has the ability to be dumbly amusing. The Vow comes close to that, sometimes, and sometimes it is just asleep in its own arch sobriety. And the rest of the time it LOOK AT CHANNING TATUM AND RACHEL MCADAMS THEY ARE AT THE MIRROR BEAN.

4/10

1 comment:

Chris said...

So, they get hit by a truck from behind and that sends her flying forward through the windshield?

Seeing that would've shut me down for the rest of the movie.