If it's crap ... We'll tell you
With all of the strikes that the film has against it from its very conception, it still manages to surprise the most cynical man of romantic films. It has Channing Tatum in it, who is clearly not the best actor working in Hollywood. The marketing campaign for this film is marketing it like a Nicholas Sparks movie when it's not actually based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks. It's "inspired or based on true events" even though the various details between the real life story and the film's version of the story are radically different for no real reason. The supporting cast is very bland or mediocre for the most part and Rachel McAdams has been trying yet again to do another great romance like she did with The Notebook but not realizing that whatever she and Ryan Gosling had in that film made it special. Now does this mean that the movie is generally bad (because of all the potential strikes against it)? No, but it is something to be noted when taking a look at this movie.
What the film poses is a very interesting question and quite a depressing one as well. What would it be like if the person you loved the most had been eradicated of any recollection of you by no other means than through divine intervention or a freak accident? Now The Notebook accomplished this quite well by having it so that the couple was old and the husband was desperately trying to pull his wife out of Alzheimer’s (even if it was for a brief moment) by reading the story of their life together to her and the audience as we got to experience both the tragedy and the triumph of true love. By doing this, the film has become a classic love story simply by wearing down the main female character’s actual being and thus wearing down the machismo of even the manliest of men. By the end of that experience, the storytelling has been delivered so well in such a cold and calculated manner that even grown men have referred to it as one of the movies that they secretly cried at. Everyone knows that a good amount of girls began to cry right from the premise but only a great romantic story can wear a man down emotionally until he has nothing left to do but cry and then make his woman promise never to tell anyone that he actually did. But does a film like this accomplish that? Not quite but it certainly put in an earnest effort which prevents me from completely hating it.
Truly great romantic stories are some of the hardest stories to pull off simply because love is one of the most complicated and subjective emotions to ever distil into simple words or images. While most genres have the shell-like components that fit them into a certain box, each genre is defined by a certain universal emotion that it wants to evoke in its audience. Action films evoke adrenaline, excitement, danger, and fun. Horror films evoke fear and nervousness. Thrillers evoke anxiety, paranoia, curiosity, and so on. Like a lot of the great romantic films, this film knows the distinct difference between the Hollywood formula of how romantic films work and real life but the biggest problem is that it tries to do both. Now does that make it bad? No, but it definitely makes the task a lot harder and if the filmmakers aren't careful about every single little thing, it could fall under unfair scrutiny. Sadly, this film does have its faults and that's what causing critics to get into such an uproar over this film when there doesn't need to be.
While Rachel McAdams may not be the next Julia Roberts like some have declared, she definitely is one of the most charismatic actresses of her age range and she has tons of potential to do some truly amazing work. One could definitely see why she chose to play this character because it does require a lot of weight and texture. How do you replicate the feeling of not knowing who you were at a certain point in your life and trying to make sense of how you got there when you've already come to a place of security and success? With that challenging question, she wrestled that feeling out and she was able to be very believable in the role. Even though her character wasn't as great as it could have been, she was still able to use that core element of the character to make her somewhat sympathetic. Perhaps the biggest surprise to me was Channing Tatum! No matter what anybody says about him and his acting chops, he has gotten a lot better since his early days. No one can deny the fact that Channing Tatum is one of the hardest working actors in Hollywood today because he has had at least one if not more than one film come out every single year ever since 2005! He's worked with Steven Spielberg, Stuart Townsend, Kimberly Peirce, Michael Mann, Lasse Hallström, Joseph Gordon-Levitt on a few occasions, Ron Howard, Kevin Macdonald, and Steven Soderbergh twice going on three times all in the course of seven years! He's been nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male (the Academy Award of the independent film community) for his work in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints and he was the only male actor to be nominated for that film out of Shia LaBeouf, Robert Downey, Jr., and Chazz Palminteri. He just recently hosted Saturday Night Live and he's expressed a lot of range by doing modern day Shakespeare adaptations (She's the Man), dance films (Step Up), heavy war films (Stop-Loss), period pieces (Public Enemies), historical films (The Eagle), comedies (The Dilemma), and plenty of other kinds of films. So how does he do as a romantic lead?
Even though he's already been the romantic lead in Dear John, Tatum proves that he can still pull off a character that actually feels real and not just another stock character that gets churned out whenever these kinds of films often get made. Some people may feel that his character of Leo may be one that's imaginary but it's actually not. He's kind, he's funny, he's silly, he enjoys the little moments, he believes in true love, he's good looking, he knows how to play guitar, he's a romantic guy but one who also enjoys a little sexual humor, he would do absolutely anything for the woman that he loves, and he's also a guy who won't take anyone's shit if someone were to interfere with what he wants to do especially if it were to involve the girl that he loves. Now do guys like this exist? Yes, they do but they are rare to find so there is at least a little bit of realism according to his character. Even when things do indeed get tough for Leo to win his wife's heart all over again after almost losing her in an accident, he does declare that while he loves his wife, she can be a pain in the ass for reasons that are very believable. The way they meet feels real, the youthful love and admiration they share feels real, the minor annoyances they don't like in each other feels real, and just about everything feels real about them. Channing Tatum seemed to have a real understanding of his character and he actually lent a lot to his character. After all that's been said about his career, it looks like he isn't going anywhere but up any time soon and hopefully after working with Steven Soderbergh three times, we could see him becoming one of the better actors working in Hollywood. The only problem that Tatum has is that the casting director made a big mistake with him in terms of the film's plausibility. While Tatum is good in the role, it's just very unrealistic how Rachel McAdams' Paige just doesn't go along with him being her husband from the get go because any girl that you know would be perfectly willing to go home with Channing Tatum if he were to say to them that he was their husband! He's worked as a model and a male stripper and he's considered one of the hottest men in the world to a lot of women out there so the fact that Rachel McAdams blows him off for the majority of the movie is just ridiculously stupid!
While Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum make this movie worth watching, there are parts of it that make it irritating. Is it the gratuitous shot of Channing Tatum's ass being shown so that all the women in the audience could cheer? Oddly enough, no (in a very heterosexual way). It's the casting, acting and storytelling surrounding the other characters in Paige's life. While Jessica Lange has a very emotionally touching scene concerning some of the heavier back story involving Paige's family history, Sam Neill and Scott Speedman just feel too obvious for the characters that they are playing that it becomes really distracting. With Rachel McAdams, Channing Tatum and Jessica Lange, the casting director seemed to be making very inspired and unconventional choices. With those three actors, they saw what their physical appearance projected but they also saw the real personality coming through which seemed to fit their individual characters which were different from their exterior appearance. But it seems like they only picked Sam Neill and Scott Speedman because they were the only two people left for their respective roles. It also seems like their characters weren't given enough background to actually give them a sense of importance to the plot. Scott Speedman plays Jeremy, Paige's former fiancé, who comes back into Paige's life for no real good reason other than a plot device and even though it feels like his character should be a critical one in the story, we're never given anything about him or his history with Paige. The audience is just supposed to hate him for the sake of hating him and that is probably the biggest flaw about this film. He's supposed to act as this unintentional antagonist and other than a few snide remarks made towards Leo, he doesn't seem to be all that threatening in terms of him being the man who could splinter Leo and Paige's marriage which should be a really big deal. Even Sam Neill, who plays Paige's father, is given more character development than Jeremy and he has less impact on the story and that is another thing that makes the film's storytelling uneven at times.
Another big problem with the film is how it begins the story. The framing of the camera in the scene where the inevitable accident happens that causes Paige to lose her memory is utterly horrible. Nothing is really wrong with the scene itself but the position of the camera is just placed at an angle where it becomes really awkward to watch. However when the film is approaching its end, there are scenes that make for genuinely touching moments especially when it seems like all seems lost for Leo and Paige's marriage. It's a shame that the trailers had to show some of the worst takes of Channing Tatum because once you understand what he's saying in a very critical scene, it is heart-wrenching and almost painful to watch. Thankfully the film manages to end with a real sense of impending heartbreak that is saved by a very believable turn of events to make it less painful. While it's not the completely happy ending that most romantic films of this type would go to (and thank goodness for that), it is a very realistic happy ending. While it does start off a bit shaky, it manages to sustain a sense of decency and it does manage to build up to a satisfying conclusion and if anything, that's the way things should be (rather than starting off strong and then falling apart later).
While it's certainly not one of the great romantic films since it does have elements of a Nicholas Sparks type of story, it honestly does it best by lending a sense of reality to its extraordinary circumstances. Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams elevate their characters to more than just types and their work gives the film a mixture of really sweet and touching moments. It may have gotten the back story of Paige wrong for the most part and started off on the wrong foot technically but what it does right is enough to save the movie from being a complete mess. Overall, it's a fairly decent romantic film that does what it sets out to do but fails to give it that extra oomph to make it a very excellent one.
Rating: Low Matinée!