Reel Toronto: The Vow
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Reel Toronto: The Vow

Channing Tatum woos Rachel McAdams in a Chicago that looks a whole lot like Toronto.

Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.

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The Vow is the kind of movie we hate. No, we don’t mean an improbable, mushy love story starring a frequently topless Channing Tatum—we’re talking about the kind of movie that just has to be set in some other photogenic city (say, Chicago), but which expends only a minimal amount of effort actually pretending to be in said city. So it looks as if they spent a couple of days down south filming just enough pretty shots to please the Windy City’s tourism department, and then shot everything else up here, and you can tell. We hate when you can tell so easily.

And it’s not just us, Toronto film nerds that we are. Brian Johnson wrote in Maclean’s that “the movie is punctuated by postcard vistas of the real Chicago, but whenever the actors are in the shot, Toronto backdrops shatter the illusion, at least for anyone who knows the city,” and Roger Ebert—the Chicago native who also loved Toronto—is even more on point:

The movie is said to be set in Chicago. It struck me as strange that it has such a large number of second-unit shots of the city: skylines, elevated trains, the Music Box movie theater. Yet the couple itself is rarely seen in them. There is one nice shot of the newlyweds running from the Art Institute across a footbridge into Millennium Park and ending up under the Bean, but otherwise something fishy is going on. Yes, the movie was shot mostly in Toronto. Poor Toronto. Poor Chicago…

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But, hey, if it weren’t for movies like The Vow, we wouldn’t have anything to write about! Like, aw shucks, here’s the happy couple (that’d be Tatum and Rachel McAdams, who we assume took the job mostly because she could sleep in her own bed), having what they call a “meet-cute,” very obviously in the rotunda at City Hall.

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If Tatum is signing up to run for mayor … we’re willing to give him a chance.

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Afterward, they meet even cuter just outside, with the Eaton Centre and Bell Trinity Square visible in the back

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…when Tatum tries to jog his wife’s memory. In Chicago, a city famous for its architecture, there’s nowhere that looks like any of these buildings (now you can see Old City Hall on the right), but whatever.

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You can see a bit more of Nathan Phillips Square here, as they drive through it.

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Oh, and what a cute and romantic and guerilla-style wedding they have! It’s supposedly at the Art Institute of Chicago…

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…but (as per Ebert) despite the insertion of this shot of them leaving…

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…and making out under the oh-so-obvious Cloud Gate sculpture…

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…the Frank Gehry staircase makes it ultra-obvious we’re actually at the AGO. (Amusingly, in some shots they actually hang fake paintings from the Institute’s collection, as if seeing “A Sunday on La Grand Jatte” will jog your memories of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and make you think you’re really there, even though the gallery looks 100 per cent different there.)

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Perhaps the most important (and romantic!) setting is “Cafe Mnemonic”…

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…actually Liberty Village’s The Roastery. And unless the cafe is named after Johnny Menmonic, it’s also way too on point with the storyline. Did we mention the storyline? Oh, gosh. Yeah, so they’re the happiest, most cutest couple ever, and then there’s a car accident and McAdams loses her memory and doesn’t remember how much she loves Channing Tatum and blah blah blah.

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The important thing to remember is that it’s (loosely) based on a true story, and the real couple lived in New Mexico, further proving that they could easily have picked any city they wanted for a setting, and just filmed there.

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You can wear a Cubs hoodie in front of your Toronto location all you want—you’re not fooling anybody.

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Indeed, the same walkabout takes her to this bakery…

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…which is actually the Venzia Bakery, on Ossington. At least they went to the effort to throw up a Chicago-style street sign there.

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McAdams runs into an old pal at this grocer, actually Savory Thymes, up in Leaside.

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This isn’t the first “Chicago” movie we’ve seen in which they drive under the Gardiner.

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At this point, you’re probably wondering if this is the sort of movie in which the dude proposes to the chick by doing something cutesy, like using blueberries and pancakes in a surprising way. And yes—yes it is.

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Anyway … so, after a car accident you need a hospital!

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This one is Newmarket’s Southlake.

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In case you didn’t notice in the wedding photo, this photogenic film couple comes with its own clique of hipster friends (the fedora is included when you buy the whole set in bulk; plastic frame glasses cost extra). Here they are hanging out at the hospital…

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…and here they are on a street that mysteriously has both US Post boxes and City of Toronto garbage cans (and in the middle of the road? What’s up with that?)…

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…on Baldwin Street.

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Because it’s based on a true story, Tatum totally has to run his own super-cool indie recording studio, actually Phase One studios.

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But lookee at who his co-worker is! It’s pre-Orphan Black Tatiana Maslany!

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It makes you wonder if next season there’ll be a new clone who looks just like the others but has a terrible perm.

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And she’s not the only local thespian cashing in here. Why, there’s Wendy Crewson!

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And here’s Scott Speedman, and you can tell just by looking at him that the very forgetful McAdams will fall in love with this dashing Torontonian, causing totally unforeseeable complications for Tatum.

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It’s hard to tell for sure, but based on the views of First Canadian Place and the TD Centre out the window, Speedman’s office appears to be in Scotia Plaza.

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This exterior here is actually Chicago’s Club Lucky

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…but the interior is our own Reservoir Lounge.

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Boohoo! Here’s Tatum being sad in real Chicago…

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…and here’s your stereotypical tourism board shot. Enjoy it for the three seconds it lasts.

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Here, Ms. McAdams is sitting in the small quad…

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…between University College and the Sir Daniel Wilson residence, at U of T. It’s a popular spot, also seen in PCU and The Incredible Hulk, for starters.

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In case you missed it—yeah, that’s definitely University College, which is definitely not in Chicago.

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Have a gander at this pretty wedding setup!

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It’s totally at Casa Loma…

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…outside and in.

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Speaking of skylines, here’s the inevitable young-and-in-love inspirational skinny-dipping scene (totally PG, of course!), and there’s a skyline off in the distance, and apparently the special effects budget was running low, because that’s our skyline.

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That makes this Cherry Beach and, more to the point, are we crazy or is there a wee bit of the CN Tower poking out back there? Hard to say for sure, but it wouldn’t surprise us.

Your more modern movies tend to be a bit more subtle in their use of Toronto, but The Vow really lowers the bar back to a pretty low level. Like, almost a Short Circuit 2 level. Nothing romantic about that, is there?