The key to enjoying most romantic films, whether comedies or dramas, is to recognize them as fantasies. You shouldn’t judge the health of your actual relationships by their standards any more than you would judge the value of your car by how well it stacks up against the Transformers. The problem that I had with The Vow, though, was that it asked us to indulge too heavily in some fantasy situations, but not heavily enough in the fantasies that make the genre work.
Rachel McAdams’ character gets amnesia after being in a car accident. Her memory reverts back to a time before she met her husband (Channing Tatum), as well as a time before she had made a series of life changes involving a new career, new friends and a distancing from her family of birth. As someone who has moved a few times in my life, I can certainly understand how one’s routines and social circles can change drastically over time, and in the context of a romantic fantasy I was perfectly willing to play along with the conceit of having severed all connections to an earlier age.
What felt forced to me, however, was the antipathy that everyone from her past has toward her new life. Yes, the movies have made a trope of the rich father trying to get rid of the boy from the wrong side of the tracks in order to salvage his daughter’s reputation, but to have every friend and family member participate in the ruse felt inauthentic. Are we really to believe that there is not a single person who thinks she might be happier at least exploring her relationship with her husband, or that there was no one encouraging her to reconnect with her successful art career?
In contrast to this overemphasis on the fantasy of universal social stratification, Channing Tatum’s character underwhelms as the fantasy lover that we expect from this genre. One minute he is hunky and charming and fully invested in sweeping us off our her off her feet, but the next minute he is impatient and overbearing and downright insensitive to the struggle she is facing. In the midst of a story where everyone else engages in a single-minded pursuit of their goals, it felt odd that the romantic hero would so frequently and inexplicably stray from the archetype that we all showed up to see.
Unless the film had an original song that I didn’t notice, there’s not much chance of it showing up on my Oscar lists this year. That doesn’t mean that it’s bad. It only means that it was designed for that other day in February, the one with the red hearts instead of the red carpets.
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My Lamb Score: 2 1/2 out of 5 Lambs
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