The Vow

I feel like beating up on a movie today. If you have ever spent any time with me, you would know that I often loathe the time after a really good film, because there is nothing to make fun of.

It was not so when I first saw the 2012 romantic ‘comedrama’ The Vow .

This is not exactly the most timely movie-rip (almost a year late), but I only saw this movie a few months ago. I’m not sure why I saw it. It’s not like I committed to seeing it printed on a $15.99 ticket and made a day out of it. It was just one of those things I fell into.

Just a Recap

This movie is about a couple played by Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams (I refuse to use their plot-names in this review), whose blossoming marriage is wrecked by a barreling semi-truck. Channing Tatum escapes the wreck unscathed, but his porcelain bride suffers amnesia. She has no idea who anyone is. Tatum’s character does his best to help his wife assimilate into her routine life, but Rachel enters a panic and fights back (ranging from the cheeky ‘don’t-look-at-me-in-my-underwear’ to a more serious emotional breakdown).

It seems the accident has set back Rachel’s mental clock back a few years to a time when she was engaged to Jeremy, a hilariously sleazy and sinister caricature whom she had since ditched to hookup with Tatum. As she knows it after the accident, she is still engaged to Jeremy.

Rachel, who escapes the grasp of Channing (who she perceives as creepy and deceptive) finds asylum in her family, who we learn have a rank disapproval for Channing. The rest of the movie plays into the tension of Channing trying to win his wife back all over again, revisiting old feuds with his inlaws. In the end, Channing charms his lady again, and remarries with the warm approval of her ridiculous family.

What's Wrong with the Movie

There are a number of things wrong with the movie. I’ll start with the biggest. The plot should have never gotten thick from the beginning. It was a tragic accident – it’s understandable that the two would be a little shaken up, and even medically plausible to get that grade of amnesia. But I still don’t see how the movie lasted longer than fifteen minutes. Here’s how an actual human being would have acted in Tatum’s situation:

  1. Take your wife home. Be as gentle as possible, as it is clear she doesn’t remember anything about you. Show her pictures, talk about the accident, and try to get her to relax. Maybe even – I don’t know – whip out that old marriage license of yours – you know – that binding legal document that she signed. Oh – and whatever you do, don’t throw her any surprise parties.
  2. At this point, she will freak out and run to her family’s house. Calmly call your in-laws and explain to them that your wife is freaking out because of an accident. Ask them to help jog her memory and bring her back home.
  3. In the event that your in-laws, for some reason, see this horrible accident as an opportunity to dissolve your marriage, ruin your life, and marry off your wife to – literally – the worst (and in a way, the coolest) piece of slime to walk the earth, don’t panic. Simply carry the marriage license (that should already be in your hand) to the police station along with a doctor’s note. When you get there, tell them your wife has been kidnapped. Chicago’s finest sends a squad car to their dope mansion and tear gasses the hell out of it. You remove your wife and take her to a therapist.

There. The movie has finished in a day (in movie time, that should only take a few minutes to play out).

But why Tatum, rather than recognizes that his wife was kidnapped, complacently resigns to just trying to win back his wife is beyond me.

channingguitar.jpg

Figure 1: In the sequel, Channing Tatum’s son is kidnapped. Channing Tatum goes to the abductor’s house with a bag of his kid’s favorite toys, sets them up all over the yard, and plays guitar outside his window.

Let's Fix this Mess

I’m going to do something atypical when it comes to the internet. It’s not my style just to burn something down, then walk away. I’m going to stay with this mess and rebuild it. You and me, dear reader – we’re going to build a better The Vow.

Step 1: Make them engaged instead of married

This is the most obvious of improvements. When you start with the main characters being engaged, it removes all tension from the movie (at least from an intelligent movie). When they start off as married, you are already giving the protagonist an obvious legal advantage over everyone in the movie.

In order to commit to this mistake, the powers-that-be had to violate a rule to good movies that I hold sacred - two bad decisions in a row.

To elaborate, when a character makes a bad decision (defined – one that average Joe sitting in the audience can obviously perceive as irresponsible, morally reprehensible, or self-destructive), it is the sacred duty of the writers and director to ostracize the character. Thieves must be brought to justice, sluggards must come up short, and the proud have to end up looking stupid. There are exceptions to the rule only for making a tragic point, but for the most part (especially in this class of movies), you have to ostracize bad decisions. In The Vow, Rachel’s family made a bad decision. They felt it was ok to break apart their marriage opportunistically. Rather than affirming our disgust by channeling it through Tatum’s character, we are forced to watch him make a bad decision. He decides to try to win his wife back by dating her. That makes two bad decisions. The result? You have just cut the cord tying your film to reality. The audience drifts into the atmosphere and burns up in their own thoughts for the remaining 70 minutes.

Here is what you do. Make them engaged. Getting engaged is a very volatile time for any couple. You seem to have the emotional commitment that comes with marriage, but there are no legal advantages. You could even keep the jackass ex-fiance, the malice-filled family, and the mopey protagonist. Because in this case, he would have no choice but to win her over again. It lends itself to all of the tension the movie was trying to sell us. I am continually surprised that this wasn’t the case, especially since all of the dialog could be preserved (save a quick search/replace). The only change would be that the movie would make a little more sense.

Step 2: Get a new actor

I don’t see what everyone else sees in this guy. Watching his heart getting ripped up didn’t really do anything for me. Channing Tatum’s version of sadness makes me feel like I am trying to stay out of a depressed coworkers way. I just recognize that he is really bummed, but I am too scared to ask about it because he is too mopey, not very articulate, and – after all – I’m at work too.

Additionally, I do not believe this guy to be a native Chicagoan for a second. Throughout the movie, I was convinced his entire wardrobe had to be custom-made. There is no way any of those clothes meant for a wire-framed urban sociologist were available in the body-builder cut. Tatum looks like a fresh Hollywood-to-Chicago organ transplant of a man (and Chicago’s antibodies are thoroughly rejecting him). Tatum is mopey, burly, wimpy, and draws about as much empathy as a sepia-toned magazine page.

channingsweater.jpg

Figure 2: Nothing says ‘likeable street-urchin’ like a new hemmed sweater in every shot.

You want a guy whose side you can get on? Who can get a laugh out of you while he looks stupid in front of his in-laws, but steal a little bit of your courage when he reaches breaking point? I’ve got just what the doctor ordered.

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Figure 3: Paul Rudd: take twice daily crushed up in yogurt.

BAM. I’m already tearing up a little. Paul Rudd would nail this role. He’s the perfect urbanite-gone-romantic. You want the guy whose voice is even a little bit funny to carry a movie with a lot of implied comedy that eventually needs to come up with some sincerity.

Step 3: Just give the girl her memory back already…

Drawing to the end of the film, I was surprised that they gave me such a lukewarm resolution. That’s all? She just accepts that she is married to this guy and her memory is never restored?

If I know you at all, dear reader, I know that you are unsatisfied with that too. Not to worry. I have got some real chicken soup for your soul. This revised ending is going to need a wordpress-typewriter font to bring it home.

Paul Rudd grabs Rachel's sleeve as she spins up from his patchy
sofa. Her damp sweater tears as she bolts for his door. Paul leaps to
his feet running after her. A staggering Rachel, followed by a weary
Paul, emerge from a door into the middle of a street applauded with
torrential rain. Rachel's pounding feet slow to a halt as Paul begs
her to stop.  "I don't know what you want me to do," gasps Paul, as he
clutches his knees, rain falling off his nose. "I'm so angry. I had
you. We were going to be together. Everything was so perfect... but
it's all falling apart now."

"But I can't know that!" Rachel screams as she whips her head in the
rain. "I don't love you - and I can't be with you just because you
want to tell me that you already had me. I don't love you, Paul." Paul
breathes heavily, as Rachel clutches her knees to catch her breath
with him. He saunters closer to her. "Shine On" by James Blunt fades
in as Paul rises to his feet.

"I love you, Rachel. And there is nothing you can do about that. And
if I have to, I'll fight for you again now, tomorrow, and for the rest
of my life until you remember."

Paul draws Rachel in forcibly for a hug. She resists, as we are given
Rachel's perspectives. The jerk from his desperate clutch brings her
back to the car wreck. She sees her body thrown through the windshield
over stuttered dialog of the moment Paul asked her to marry him. The
camera fades to back. Rachel's arms hang lifelessly behind Paul, but
her fingers tighten as she clutches his back. All the memories of
their life together begin to rush back as James Blunt enters the
chorus. They cry... hug... whatever... as we feel the anxiety slip off
of Paul's shoulders (and perhaps even, our own).

Credits roll. Families hug. Ex-cons confess their crimes. Movie
theaters decide to charge less for food.

Fine – maybe the dialog may need some tooling, but for a first draft on the internet, that is a lot better than what they had.

So that’s my two cents about this stupid movie. Let’s just say that if they had asked my help to begin with, I would not be making fun of this movie today.