Directed by Michael Sucsy
Screenplay by Jason Katims, Abby Kohn
Channing Tatum, Rachel McAdams, Sam Neill, Scott Speedman, Jessica Lange, Jessica McNamee
How long is The Vow? 104 minutes.
What is The Vow rated? PG-13 for an accident scene, sexual content, partial nudity and some language.
‘The Vow’ Solemnly Swears To Break No New Ground
There’s actually an interesting premise behind The Vow. It’s so fascinating that, when you’re drowning amidst romantic clichés and other forms of tripe, you start to reinvision the movie and desperately look for evidence that feeds into the superior film you have going on in your mind.
Inspired by true events, The Vow begins with the married couple Paige (Rachel McAdams) and Leo (Channing Tatum) getting into a car accident. We flashback to earlier points in their relationship, such as their meeting, the wedding, and their living-well-beyond-their-means-if-this-movie-was-based-in-reality life before learning that Paige’s memories of the past five years had been wiped out, including any idea of who Leo is. We then follow Leo as he attempts to make her fall in love with him again, as Paige deals with her simultaneously well-meaning and scheming parents (Alcatraz‘ Sam Neill and American Horror Story‘s Jessica Lange) and resurrected feelings towards her ex-fiancé Jeremy (Scott Speedman).
Seeing The Vow primarily through Leo’s eyes is probably the film’s biggest problem. Paige just had the last five years of her life wiped out and that is inherently more fascinating than a man who wants to win back his wife. The fear, the confusion, the distrust that Paige experiences on a daily basis is a superior story to one man’s quest to prove his love. You don’t just don’t know your circle of friends, you don’t know yourself either; it’s been five years and Paige is a completely different person. And while The Vow acknowledges these things, it never goes into these issues as deeply as it should. This angle doesn’t mean that the film needs to be a suspense, but it could have been a drama where even the most innocuous thing causes paranoia even though everything is on the level. A non-thriller where everything is true even though everything feels like a lie.
But I am writing on what The Vow is, and not what it could have been/should have been. And what it is, is a lazy romantic drama. People are too one-dimensional. Leo and his hipster cronies are undeniably Good. For the Bad, we have Paige’s over-the-top slimy ex-fiancé and her parents, who are too obviously concerned with their own self-interest and getting their daughter to do exactly what they want her to do. We even have to deal with a “my parents want me to be a fuddy duddy but my heart commands me to be an artist!” subplot.
But because the lead is knight-in-shining-armor Leo, and because we see the person Paige has become and the happiness she felt as that person, we have no doubt over who is her true self. We know that quitting law school, breaking up with her ex-fiancé, not speaking to her parents in five years, and seemingly cutting everyone from her past out of her life were the right decisions. The whys behind these choices, while being more-or-less obvious, are also moot. Additionally, because of this misplaced focus, Paige’s decisions to return to her old life and hang out with her old friends all exist under the banner of “this is wrong,” and we don’t get enough of the crucial counterbalance from Paige to show why these choices are right for her.
As for the main couple, Channing Tatum plays an affable lunkhead. I don’t know if this was a choice on the part of the director and actor or if it’s Tatum’s default setting, but I thought it worked well for the part. When he welcomes Paige back from the hospital by throwing a surprise party loaded with her friends whom she has never met, it’s the type of move that could only work if Leo was a dope. Yet his lack of mental prowess helps sell his devotion to his wife by making it into something he focuses on with a pure heart rather than turning it into a creepy, myopic, self-destructive obsession. Leo’s a simple man and thus will more likely act on simple, black and white, emotions without maliciousness.
Rachel McAdams has always been one of those actors that you keep thinking has untapped talent, but cannot explain why. She’s like Ryan Reynolds early in his career. Excluding Mean Girls, she should have at least one film on her resume that you can point to and say “see, she can do above-average work and carry a movie or steal the scene.” Yes, there was Midnight in Paris, but she was far from the stand-out in that film. Oddly enough, The Vow might feature one of McAdams’ better performances. There were moments throughout where she gave Paige enough twitches to make me believe that she could have given a noteworthy performance as the same character in a more serious film, one that cared about the characters instead of their relationship.
However, the two shared a decent amount of chemistry, at least after Paige lost her memory. Though I don’t know what it says about Tatum that he works best off someone missing half-a-decade of their life and living in constant fear.
Nevertheless, The Vow is the type of movie made for a specific crowd. It’s the Comfort-Your-Girlfriend-As-She-Cries Valentine’s Day movie of the year. It’s why one of the ads proclaimed it as starring “The Notebook‘s Rachel McAdams” and “Dear John‘s Channing Tatum.” And although it will not garner the same insane level of adoration as these movies, it will probably appeal to a similar audience.