Directed by: Michael Sucsy
Premise: A woman (Rachel McAdams) suffers a brain injury in a car accident and loses the memory of the last five years, including her courtship and marriage to her husband (Channing Tatum). The husband has to woo his wife all over again but she has reverted to an earlier version of herself whose values are very different.
What Works: The Vow is the kind of sentimental love story that will appeal to a certain audience, like those who enjoy adaptations of Nicholas Sparks novels. The picture has at its core a very romantic premise: a man doing everything he can to reclaim the love of his life. It’s the kind of story set up that fairy tales are made of and the film provides its audience with a romantic fantasy. The picture is given some credibility by its two lead actors: Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum. Tatum in particular is a likable romantic lead. (Incidentally, Tatum is a better romantic lead than an action star.) He has a masculine presence but he is also appropriately vulnerable and even funny. The Vow also benefits from a few impressive visuals such as the camerawork and editing in the opening car crash.
What Doesn’t: The Vow is intended to be a formulaic romantic drama; that is the appeal of a film like this. That said, The Vow is guilty of clichés, especially in its supporting characters. The husband’s in-laws are of course rich, condescending hypocrites of high society while his friends are all broke but authentic bohemians and hipsters. This kind of class conflict is just too easy and it comes across as lazy writing. Unfortunately, the film’s use of these stereotypes is not limited to the periphery characters. When McAdams’s character reverts to her former self she is very prissy and treats her husband poorly. That is detrimental to the film because love stories only work if the audience wants to see the couple get together. Rachel McAdams’ character is so unlikable and Tatum’s character is so sympathetic that the viewer will want to see him end up happy but not necessarily with his wife. That is a serious problem for this film; viewers go to a film like this in part as an excuse to cry their eyes out but there just isn’t a throbbing romantic heart underneath the film that will push the audience’s emotions to critical mass. The Vow also suffers from some weak plotting. The main adversary of the film is the former fiancé (Scott Speedman) of McAdams’ character who is now attempting to entice her back. This subplot fails to cultivate an escalating conflict between the two men. It also makes the appeal of McAdams’ character worse because both she and her ex are obnoxious and it would be just as well if they ended up together. But the weakest plot point of The Vow is in the secret trauma in the past of McAdams’ character. The film indicates that she had severed ties with her parents over some calamity and in the process of recovering her memory she rediscovers what caused the rift. When this is finally revealed, it is not presented with enough dramatic weight nor is it reason enough to steer McAdams’ character back to her husband.
Bottom Line: The Vow is very sketchily plotted. The intended viewers of a film like this are probably going to care less about the plot mechanics and more about the visceral experience of watching it, but even as a schlocky, heart tugging romance The Vow falls short.
Episode: #376 (February 19, 2012)