The Vow Review
Much as it pains me to say it, I actually enjoyed The Vow. Far from the shotgun-wedding relationship that I expected to have with the movie, and in spite of the almost across-the-board negative reviews that it has been getting, I found it to be warm, interesting and occasionally even quite touching. It may not live up to the promise of the compelling premise to the story – based on real-life events – but it still works as the diet version of a cross between The Notebook and 50 First Dates, both of which I highly rate. If you’re dismayed by the standard of recent romcoms, then this may not necessarily persuade you back into the fold, but it is several steps in the right direction, and a long way away from the kind of nonsense that usually comes from the Sarah-Jessica-Parker/Jennifer Lopez/Jennifer Aniston bootcamp.
After a terrible accident, Paige Collins loses her memory. She can’t remember what happened to put her in the hospital, what job she does, why she no longer speaks to her family, and why she broke up with her old fiancé. Most importantly, though, she can’t remember her new husband, Leo. She doesn’t remember how they met, how they fell in love, and how they took personally-written vows to stay together through thick and thin, for the rest of their lives.
Initially hopeful that returning her to her normal routine will jog her memory, Leo tries his hardest to put things right, surrounding her by all her old clothes, her sculpting materials, and her favourite foods, whilst fawning over her with love and attention. Yet she can’t help but believe that this ‘new life’ is all wrong. She doesn’t remember being a sculptor, she remembers being a law student; she doesn’t remember being madly in love with Leo, she remembers being engaged to a high-flying lawyer named Jeremy; and when her parents come to take her ‘home’, she doesn’t remember why she left there in the first place. Will Paige be able to have faith in what her husband and ‘new’ friends are telling her, or will she fall back on the memories of her past – which feel like her present – and thus end up making all the same mistakes again?
There is no denying that the true story of Kim and Krickett Carpenter – who were torn apart by the latter’s terrible memory loss, but who stayed together through their religious faith and because of the ultimate sanctity of their wedding vows (now do you get the title?) – could have been used to far better effect here. For about two thirds of the movie, they stick with it, and then freewheel the final act (obviously jettisoning the whole religious angle, but also, unfortunately, losing the whole ‘sanctity of our marriage’ angle in the process), with marginally disappointing end results. Indeed, The Vow feels two-parts good romantic-comedy-drama, and one-part slightly disappointing cliché.
Yet it is seldom that you come across a movie in this genre which can be regarded in this way – usually the story follows the tried-and-tested cliché-ridden routine right from the get-go, whereas The Vow not only gets off to a solid start, but actually maintains significance for a fair amount of the runtime, crafting a film that is indeed considerably more good than bad.
The same can be said about the actors who, surprisingly, are limited only by the depth of their scripted characters and not – as is usually the case – the other way around. Rachel McAdams’s presence only furthers the comparisons to The Notebook, and she is really very convincing as the woman who has lost her memory: with all the flashbacks you get to see her truly, madly and deeply in love with her husband, but then, in the present, she seems genuinely lost in her ‘new’ life. Unfortunately, as the story progresses, and reaches that unfortunate third act, the ‘true story’ plot goes out of the window, and is instead diluted by standard Hollywood contrivance – as if reality isn’t enough for this kind of film, and there is instead a requirement for ‘big things’ to happen just to keep your attention – but McAdams stills holds on, making for a competent female lead.
Channing Tatum has been slowly growing in my esteem, ever since his awful start in G.I. Joe and films like Fighting. Indeed his last couple of efforts – solid support in Haywire and a decent lead performance in the otherwise pretty abysmal cop thriller Son of No One (opposite an utterly redundant Al Pacino), as well as a great showcase for his more self-depreciating, comedic side in 21 Jump Street – have certainly improved my regard for him, although, to be honest, the only way was up after G.I. Joe. Here he does an even better job than McAdams, arguably having the more sympathetic role as the loyal and determined husband who desperately wants his wife to remember him. If anything, it’s only the fact that his character design does not always allow for more natural responses (there were several opportunities where this guy could have rightly let loose a bit more – including the revelation about the parents: it makes no sense for him to hold back on that) that prevents him from elevating this movie even further.
Support comes from a dependably Machiavellian Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, The Hunt for Red October, Daybreakers) and a surgery-enhanced Jessica Lange (Cape Fear, Prozac Nation), who looks considerably worse for wear – as the less-than-honest affluent parents who want to ‘retrieve’ their lost daughter by whatever means necessary, even if it means further destroying her marriage – as well as Underworld’s Scott Speedman as the old fiancé, looking so different (not in a good way) that you can understand why he didn’t reprise his role in Underworld: Awakening.
At the end of the day The Vow makes good use of some real-life events to tug at your heart-strings, and it’s these elements that work the best; it boasts warm, natural chemistry from the leads, and even a few nice jokes (mostly coming from the surprisingly witty Tatum); as well as able support from the older players. Romantic, funny, and dramatic – it ticks all of the boxes – and with a slightly better thought-out resolution (or rather, perhaps, less thinking would have worked here: all they had to do was stick to what happened to the real couple, and maybe remember that the film they were making was called “The VOW”) it could have been even better. As stated, if you take 50 First Dates and remix it with the dramatic sincerity of The Notebook, then dilute the ending a little, the end result is this film. For couples, or those who enjoy a decent romcom, it’s certainly worth a watch.
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