Film Review: “The Vow”

by Jason LeRoy on February 10, 2012

Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams in THE VOW

starring: Channing Tatum, Rachel McAdams, Jessica Lange, Sam Neill, Scott Speedman, Wendy Crewson

written by: Jason Katims, Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein, and Michael Sucsy

directed by: Michael Sucsy

MPAA: Rated PG-13 for an accident scene, sexual content, partial nudity and some language

If there’s a way to depict onscreen romance in a manner that doesn’t inspire grim contemplations of self-harm among its viewers, The Vow certainly hasn’t discovered it. Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams star as Leo and Paige (names that exist almost entirely within movies such as this one), a Chicago couple who’ve been very, very, very happily married for four years. He owns a recording studio, she is an artist (see the above parenthetical but replace “names” with “occupations”).

But Leo and Paige’s idyllic existence is shattered when a wintry car accident sends Paige soaring through a windshield. When she wakes up, she has no recollection of Leo at all. Her memories stop a few years before she met him, when she was quite a different woman. Unfortunately for Leo, his Paige and the new-old Paige have little in common, and he watches mournfully as she gradually returns to the life she led before they met: when she was a law student rather than an artist, engaged to a yuppie (Scott Speedman) and still on speaking terms with her parents (Jessica Lange and Sam Neill), from whom she had been estranged for as long as Leo had known her. Through it all, Leo doggedly pursues her in the hopes that her memory will return, his patience will be rewarded, and their life together will resume.

The Vow is an old-fashioned romance that would have made far more sense culturally if it had been released in the late ’60s. The formula is all there: a blissed-out hippie couple are high on life until the old lady takes a header through a windshield and comes to as an unenlightened square, with her square parentals and establishment fiance. And while The Vow does have a bit of fun with Leo’s mortification at discovering Paige’s past as — to use the local parlance — a Marina chick (wait until you see the godawful blonde streaks she gets during her reverse-makeover), it is woefully lacking in self-awareness in its depiction of Leo’s allegedly “hip” scene.

Apparently the costume designer thought the best way to communicate “Chicago art scene hipsters” was to show goatee’d d-bags in straw fedoras with ethnically indeterminate girlfriends. That Channing Tatum is intended to pass as a member of this scene tells you all you need to know. Only his assistant at the recording studio (Tatiana Maslany, who presumably gets mistaken for Maeby Funke at least once an hour) has even the faintest whiff of authenticity, although the character clearly should have been a lesbian. But that’s my complaint about most characters.

Funky artist inauthenticity aside (one scene that depicts him mournfully strumming an acoustic guitar post-heartbreak brought a chorus of snickering from our audience), Tatum is surprisingly good here. He gives a winningly low-key and thoroughly likeable performance that suits, and even elevates, the material. And he shows his stripper-certified ass, which is a plus. McAdams is similarly strong in a somewhat difficult role, although between this and her shrewish turn in Midnight in Paris, she’s getting awfully good at playing nags who crush their free-spirited husbands.

As Paige’s mother, the great Jessica Lange (reuniting with her Grey Gardens director Michael Sucsy, making his big-screen directorial debut) plays her supporting role almost too well. In a pivotal scene with McAdams, she plays her character’s argument so convincingly that we find ourselves siding with her instead of our heroine. This is Lange’s first film since her award-winning work on American Horror Story introduced her to a massive new generation of fans; there were audible murmurs of shocked recognition when she first appeared on screen. I’ve been making that noise at her for years, kids.

Despite its solid performances and several moments of genuinely funny out-of-character humor, The Vow is pure cornball pap. It may even set an all-time record for the greatest number of grand romantic gestures in a single film. And yet, I just can’t bring myself to hate it. It somehow managed to remain likeable to me, even at its most unapologetically sappy.

The Vow opens nationwide today.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Adrienne Jenkins March 5, 2012 at 1:43 am

I haven’t seen the movie yet. What song does Channing Tatum sing in the movie?

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