The Review Revue: THE VOW

In “The Review Revue,” we turn dozens of movie reviews from all over the Internet into one handy blog post. It’s like super-concentrated orange juice for film criticism (with less pulp and Vitamin D). This week: we pledge to gauge the critical reaction to THE VOW.

When I first saw the trailer for THE VOW (embedded below), it looked to me like the ultimate romantic drama, like a cinematic Frankenstein monster built out of pieces of discarded Nicholas Sparks adaptations. Take the heart of THE NOTEBOOK, Rachel McAdams, and suture it to the head of DEAR JOHN, Channing Tatum, and you get THE VOW — a laboratory engineered weepie designed for maximum tearjerking. Actually, given Tatum’s onscreen persona, he’s probably not the head — how about “the well-chiseled abdomen of DEAR JOHN?” Anyway, if I can stretch this Frankenstein metaphor just a bit further, the film practically set fire to the February box office this weekend to the tune of $41 million. Will audiences vow to see the next Rachel McAdams/Channing Tatum joint? Or will they storm projection booths all over the country with pitchforks and torches to voice their horror and disgust? Let’s find out (no more Frankenstein references, either; that is my vow).

Director: Michael Sucsy
Writers: Abby Kohn, Mark Silverstein, Jason Katims
Cast: Rachel McAdams (Paige), Channing Tatum (Leo), Sam Neill (Bill)
Plot Synopsis: A woman forgets her marriage to her bohemian husband as a result of a head injury suffered during a horrific accident. The scenario, reportedly inspired by dream a Katy Perry had recently, means serious trouble for Tatum’s Leo, who must try to reconnect with his confused and disinterested wife.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 28%
Metacritic Score: 44

Most Positive: Joseph V. Amodio, Newsday:

“Tatum is unusually expressive; [Scott] Speedman, both hiss-worthy and sympathetic. But McAdams is the real draw. Exuding her usual uncanny warmth on-screen, she uses that magnetism to fine effect here. You keep rooting for her, even when Paige gets, well… annoying, distancing herself from Leo, whom you know she’s meant to be with. Or is she? Sucsy…poses challenging questions about the inevitability of love, and whether we’d really make the same choices again if life handed us a do-over.”

(In Other Words:) The actors provide the real sparks here. Though the overall consensus on THE VOW was fairly negative, a few critics reacted positively to the casting, particularly of McAdams as the beleaguered Paige. It’s easy to shine in good material — to shine in a mediocre project takes real skill and charisma, and that’s something many critics, including Amodio, said of McAdams this week. Tatum, on the otherhand, gets called “unusually expressive,” maybe the most backhanded compliment an actor has ever received. More on him in a bit.

Most Negative: James Berardinelli, ReelViews:

“The only reason any male could have for seeing THE VOW is the hope of getting laid afterwards. The only reason any female could have for seeing THE VOW is if she views the plots of Harlequin romance novels as the height of modern storytelling. This film, with its would-be crowd-pleasing contrivances and rote adherence to formula, offers almost no redeeming characteristics. From beginning to end, it is steeped in artifice, without a genuine emotion or interaction to be found. This is for young women what TRANSFORMERS is for young men. Both are equally offensive to lovers of good cinema.”

(In Other Words:) If you made a promise to see this one with your significant other this Valentine’s Day, consider breaking it. You have to love the bluntness of Berardinelli’s opening line: the only men who will ever see THE VOW, he says, are the ones who are doing so as part of some sort of unspoken (or, hell, spoken) bargain for sex. And while love may be in the air for Valentine’s Day this week, Berardinelli doesn’t find a whole lot to love in THE VOW — he starts mean and only gets harsher; he winds his piece up by comparing the film to a bad case of indigestion (“hard to swallow and harder still to keep down without medication.”) Beyond the clever put-downs, there is something interesting in his comparison to TRANSFORMERS. Are sudsers like THE VOW the female equivalent of male-oriented blockbusters? Perhaps; you could argue they both depend equally on genre and narrative convention and empty but spectacular visuals. Whether you’re going to watch a jeep turn into a robot or Channing Tatum to take his shirt off, it’s really all about the spectacle.

Most Typical: Alison Willmore, Movieline:

“McAdams can turn up the charisma and make (almost) any role grounded and watchable, even multiple ones involving time travel and memory loss. Tatum is like a very handsome steak. Unfortunately, he’s the one saddled with the swoony, Nicholas Sparksesque burdens in the story, from a voiceover about love and fate delivered in an earnest monotone, to spelling out “MOVE IN?” in blueberries when serving Paige breakfast, to accidentally complementing the aesthetic merits of her scrap pile instead of the sculpture in progress she’s working on.”

(In Other Words:) Tatum has trouble stepping up to the role of romantic lead. Tatum is not without his charms as an actor (or at least as a slab of man-beef), but a lot of critics found Tatum miscast in his part. In the right role, he can project an appealing form of bruised masculinity, but he’s not necessarily the guy you want to call on for emotional pining. Willmore (my longtime podcast cohost, but don’t hold that against her) notes that director Michael Sucsy made the wrong half of his star duo play the unrequited lover. On a side note, if you’re going to spell “MOVE IN?” in food for Valentine’s Day tomorrow, do it in blueberries. Take it from me, spelling it out in, say, fried jalapeño poppers, just sends a weird message.

The One Review You Have to Read: A.O. Scott, New York Times:

“THE VOW leaves the creepy implications of Paige’s condition unexplored, which is fine. But the movie’s commitment to the blandest possible presentation of its central problem starts to seem perverse after a while. This could have been a rich, strange melodrama; a psychological thriller; a horror movie; a dark comedy; or any combination of these, and scholarly viewers can relieve the tedium by imagining it remade by more daring filmmakers. Just think of what Alfred Hitchcock or Pedro Almodóvar or Luis Buñuel or John Waters could have done with this material.”

(In Other Words:) Vow to wait for a smarter remake. Scott’s review hints at the fascinating weirdness buried beneath THE VOW’s sappier-than-maple-syrup premise. One of the most fascinating — or at least consistently strange — parts of movies about amnesiacs are the ways they suggest that not only can a good knock on the noggin erase your memory, it can also reset a broken moral compass. In movies like TOTAL RECALL or UNKNOWN, evil dudes get positive attitude readjustments thanks to a bout of forced forgetfulness. In THE VOW, on the other hand, McAdams’ character reverts her back to an earlier time in her life, when she was, as Tatum describes (as quoted in Scott’s piece), a “sweater-set-wearing, mojito-drinking sorority girl.” There’s something worth exploring there about conformity and change and the human condition. But why bother with any of that when you can use your convoluted premise to show us two beautiful people fall in love not once but twice?

The Critical Consensus In One Sentence From One Review: “THE VOW is inspired by a true and wonderful story, but that doesn’t make the fictionalized version any less ridiculous.” — Richard Roeper, Richard Roeper & The Movies

THE VOW is now playing in wide release.