Romantically Honest Vow Difficult to Forget
What if you woke up and all memories of your recent life were gone? That’s what has happened to Paige (Rachel McAdams). She was in a car accident with her husband Leo (Channing Tatum), and after a brief coma she has returned to the waking world with no memory of him or their life together. She doesn’t recall leaving law school to become a famous Chicago artist and she has no clue who all these people pertaining to be her friends are. Most of all, she doesn’t know why she is estranged from her wealthy parents Bill (Sam Neill) and Gwen Thornton (Jessica Lange) or why her nuptials to childhood friend and lover Jeremy (Scott Speedman) never took place.
It’s a mess, but one Leo insists they can overcome. He pledged to love Paige forever, promised to help her through all of life’s travails no matter what obstacles might be put in her path. He knows all of his wife’s secrets, inlcuding everything about the events that led to her cutting her parents out of the picture and what exactly it was that caused her breakup with Jeremy. During their marriage they told one another everything, and now that she’s a blank slate he’s at a crossroads as to whether or not to reveal these mysteries to her or to allow his beloved the opportunity to figure them out for a second time on her own.
I was ready to hate The Vow. The stupid trailer made it look like the bastardized cousin of a second-rate Nicolas Sparks adaptation, the treacle-ridden sap delivered in all the commercials and previews enough to make me vomit. While I’m a sucker for a good romance, while I’m not above getting my emotions played like the strings on a harp, this just didn’t look appealing, and as much as I adore McAdams it was hard for me to think that even she was going to be enough to save what looked like a melodramatically schlocky mediocrity.
Shows what I know and why no critic worth their salt should ever carry preconceptions into the actual screening with them. For all its potential faults and pitfalls, The Vow is a solid romance that honestly tugged at my heartstrings for the entire length of its running time. I enjoyed just about all of it, this story keeping me captivated no matter how many times the script came perilously close to falling off the rails.
And boy does the film ever come close to doing just that. The subplot involving Paige’s parents is ripe with cliché, including the moment when Bill quietly comes up to Leo with a look of fatherly caring in his eye and then drops the bomb that his daughter would be better served if he’d consider divorcing her. The reason behind the family’s estrangement is also not particularly inspired (or interesting), and it is only through the superlative talents of Lange that this otherwise ridiculous moment of facile honesty rings with any sort of emotional truth whatsoever.
Yet I have to admit I fell into breathless rapture while watching The Vow. Director Michael Sucsy (HBO’s Grey Gardens) knows when to pull back and knows when to use restraint, never allows Rachel Portman’s (One Day) and Michael Brook’s (The Fighter) lyrical score to overpower the proceedings and overall does a magnificent job bringing this somewhat soggy story (five different writers get credit) to life. The movie has a magnet ebb and flow I allowed myself to become entangled with, everything building to the kind of honest, irresistibly poignant climaxe films of this genre typically eschew.
Then there are McAdams and Tatum. The former is terrific, no surprise there, the actress using all of her talents to make Paige worth caring about. It is the latter that took me by surprise. While I’ve never taken Tatum to task for any of his performances, I can’t say he’s ever bowled me over (even in Stop-Loss or Haywire) until now. Watching him here is like Columbus discovering the new world, his freshness, his timid tenacity, the way he can flash a smile only to morph it into a devastating frown, all of it comes together in a manner I was completely unprepared for. I adored him as Leo, and watching him match wits with McAdams was as big a treat as any I could have ever hoped for.
Their film certainly isn’t without faults, but as cinematic romances perfect for Valentine’s Day go I’m hard-pressed to imagine one I’ve enjoyed more. This movie won me over, kept me happily entertained, and while the heroine might be battling partial amnesia I can pretty much guarantee The Vow is one 2012 release I’m going to have trouble forgetting anytime soon.
Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)