There was one thing that surprised me about "The Vow." It isn't based on a Nicholas Sparks novel! I totally thought going in that this was going to another one of those shamelessly manipulative melodramas about love torn apart and brought back together again ripped from the pages of Sparks' deal-with-the-Devil prose. I mean, it stars Rachel McAdams from "The Notebook" and Channing Tatum from "Dear John." Both were Sparks' properties, and both were utterly ruthless in jerking the tears. And the trailers and commercial for this latest flick are cut exactly the same way that other ads were cut for those two titles and such other Sparks' weepies as "The Last Song," "A Walk to Remember," and "Message in a Bottle."
I remember seeing each of those movies in the theater. Hey, man. It's my job. Don't judge. And each time, there would inevitably be audience members reduced to puddles of tears by the end credits. And I'm not talking the kind of sniffling half-sobs you can explain away when the lights come up by saying, "It's just my cold." I'm talking tears on the level of Matt Damon "It's not your fault, Will" crying. Open-mouth wailing, I tell ya. It was like sitting in the splash section at SeaWorld.
So, imagine my surprise when the opening titles roll and the credit "Based on a Novel by Nicholas Sparks" didn't flash across the screen. As the movie went on, the one thing I appreciated was that director Michael Sucsy and his game cast did not break out the movie equivalent of onions and tear gas every five minutes to pound the audience with cheap sentiment and romantic longing. The film is surprisingly muted. It plays its premise out with restraint. It's not a good movie. But it wasn't a painful experience.
Tatum and McAdams play Leo and Paige, a young husband and wife deeply in love. He owns a recording studio, she is a sculptor. One night on a snowy drive home from the movies, their small car is rear-ended by a large truck outfitted with a snow plow. Paige, having just unhooked her seatbelt to cuddle with Leo, goes head-first through the windshield and wakes up many days later from a coma having no memory of the last five years of her life. All she remembers is living at home with her wealthy parents (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange) and being engaged to another chiseled, young beefcake (Scott Speedman).
But Paige, we come to learn, hasn't spoken with her family in those five years. She left home, quit law school, and dumped her former fiancé just days before the wedding. She came to Chicago to study art, her true passion. She and we are left to fill in the blanks as to what really happened all those years ago. And when we find out...
Eh, it's actually not that big a deal. The main thing wrong with "The Vow" is that it's just so unremarkable. It's slow and plodding. There is a bland and rather needless voiceover narration by Tatum's character in which he tries to noodle through everything that has happened to him and his wife in a weak attempt to give the film some profundity. And, by the end, Tatum's big nugget of wisdom is: "Sometimes stuff happens out of the blue…and it changes your life." Well...duh!
I will say that the film is successful at creating a believable relationship dynamic between Paige and Leo. But all of its supporting characters are laughably one-note. They either support Paige and Leo or they don't. Those who do are good. Those who don't are bad. And poor, lunkheaded Leo. It takes him forever to get to the meat of the drama...i.e. his romantic efforts to get Paige to fall in love with him all over again. When that part of the film does come, it's nicely played. Unfortunately, it's pretty much all compartmentalized into one single night out on the town.
And while I appreciated that all concerned didn't go for the tear-duct jugular with a situation that could easily have leant itself to shameless melodrama, there is something to be said for those films like "The Notebook" that are skillful in their manipulations. Just like some folks go to horror movies for a good scare and comedies for a good laugh, people do go to these kinds of flicks for a good cry. And when you don't deliver that and the audience just lumbers out of the theater saying things like "It was nice," you haven't really executed.
There are some nice moments in "The Vow." And, yes, ladies. Tatum takes off his shirt throughout. It deliver...uh, some of what you want. Just not enough to recommend today's theater admission prices. It tops off for this viewer at a 4.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)