Michael Sucsy’s The Vow is a lot like one of those big heart-shaped boxes of chocolates that crop up in stores at this time of year—glossy, eye-catching, selling the promise of easy pre-packaged romance, or at least romantic duty fulfilled. And it’s about as satisfying. The packaging is all very well made, but the contents are all a little too waxy and the flavors a little too artificial. Of course, that’s the whole raison d’être for a movie like The Vow—to break the populace loose from their hard-earned geeters on Valentine’s Day weekend. Will it work on that basis? If Friday’s box office is any barometer, it already has.
I am by no means against romantic movies—at least against good ones. For that matter, I’m a pretty easy mark for buying this kind of thing while it’s onscreen. Later, I may realize that I’ve been made a fool of by shameless manipulation that produced an unearned emotional response. The Vow scored in no capacity on this level. Oh, it’s shamelessly manipulative, but for me at least, it never produced an emotional response of any kind—apart from a certain desire that it would get to its preordained conclusion. (Come on, the purpose of a film like this—and with timing like this—isn’t to play downbeat.)
The Vow is one of those “inspired by a true story” things as concerns its premise, but in reality it feels more “inspired by Nicholas Sparks.” (We’re only a couple of months away from the real McSparks movie of the year.) The idea of a couple in a car wreck where the wife comes to and is unable to remember her husband—in fact, the past few years of her life—is reasonably promising. The screenplay, direction and acting (or maybe the casting) does very little to deliver on that promise. It’s pretty completely played for sap and calculated cuteness.
Casting really works against the film—at least in the case of Channing Tatum as Leo. It’s not just that I have a basic aversion to leading men whose necks are bigger than their heads (though I do). It’s more the simple fact that nothing about Tatum even remotely suggests he’s part of the film’s art-world milieu, or any art-world milieu anywhere. In fact, he looks slightly baffled by the whole thing—like he wandered onto the set by accident and doesn’t know what to do. In his most honest-looking moment of the film, Leo mistakes Paige’s (Rachel McAdams) clay scrap pile for the piece she’s working on and enthuses over it. Less believable is the idea that rather than clue her in on the fact that maybe he’s not really paying attention, she takes this as proof that he really loves her. It’s that kind of movie.
There are undoubtedly all sorts of things that could have been done with the premise. It could have even been reconfigured as a comedy. But rather than do anything interesting with it, The Vow is awash in simple melodrama (oh, those hateful parents played by Jessica Lange and Sam Neill) and scads of romantic moments that look like General Foods International Coffee commercials. None of it feels real. All of it feels contrived. The film’s entire concept of characterization seems to come down to Tatum looking sincere, which doesn’t really work. Most of the characters are barely sketched in (who—for that matter, what—are all these artsy friends?). The film spends some time trying to establish Paige’s ex-fiancé Jeremy (Scott Speedman) as a low-life opportunist, then suddenly changes its mind. Why? I have no idea. But then I have no idea why Sucsy’s movie falls short in so many areas. Rated PG-13 for an accident scene, sexual content, partial nudity and some language.