The Vow is not exactly a woman’s picture. It’s more about how a man falls in love, loses his love and gives up everything in life to focus on regaining his love. Maybe it’s a woman’s picture from a male point of view. However you slice it, it’s a welcome loaf—far from perfect, but as filling as a home-cooked meal.
“Moments of impact define who we are,” says the sculpted Channing Tatum, who used to be a male stripper before he became a movie star, and still looks it. That’s the kind of sappy corn syrup that passes for narration, and Mr. Tatum is better playing gladiators and hell-raising soldiers than he is saying it. He’s a guy named Leo, who owns a recording studio. Luscious Rachel McAdams is Paige, a sculptress studying at the Chicago Art Institute. They meet cute and marry even cuter after he spells “Move In” with blueberries. Then, on a romantic winter night under street lamps that light the snow like candles, their car is rear-ended by a truck that sends Paige through the windshield. When she regains consciousness in the hospital, brain damaged and wearing a Band-Aid, all she remembers is her life before Leo. When he comes to her room, she thinks he’s her doctor. He vows to floor her with love, but she feels like she’s sharing space with a stranger. She doesn’t even recognize him buck naked. He moves to the couch. Then her parents (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange) take over, and her long-term memory includes a vivid romance with an old boyfriend (Canadian heart throb Scott Speedman) who returns, wanting his share. She falls into old habits, old cocktails, old favorite meals (she forgets she’s a vegetarian). The most important thing she forgets is the vow she made at her wedding: “Regardless of the challenges that might come between us, we’ll always find our way back to each other.” Leo devotes his life to making Paige fall in love all over again, and what I forgot is what a sucker I am for so much sincere humanity and heartbreak, no matter how corny it seems.
The Vow seems extra moving because its sincerity is not contrived. It’s a true story and the real-life couple who experienced its trajectory are shown at the end, reunited after years of effort and hard work. The writer-director, Michael Sucsy, is probably not old or smart enough to have seen Greer Garson and Ronald Colman in Random Harvest, Mervyn LeRoy’s 1942 masterpiece about love and amnesia, but to a ripe old movie buff like me, The Vow brings back warm memories. It is nowhere as elegantly written, richly endowed or inescapably human—and God knows, it does not have the magic of Greer Garson—but no movie about amnesia that cuts through the hurdles of fate to declare love triumphant should be ignored as easily as some critics have dismissed this one. Chicago has never looked more luminous, the actors are all appealing, the characters are clean and decent and worth caring about, and you go away with a glow in your heart. This movie is not for pessimists who consider sentimentality a subtle form of subversive manipulation, but I embraced the feel-good heart it wears on its sleeve. At a time when we’re surrounded by a surfeit of cinematic pretentiousness, depression, vulgarity and mean-spirited violence, The Vow is a welcome antidote to cynicism, and a bracing tonic that proves love hasn’t disappeared from the film experience completely.
Running Time 104 minutes
Written by Jason Katims and Abby Kohn
Directed by Michael Sucsy
Starring Rachel McAdams, Channing Tatum and Sam Neill