Paige and Leo (Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum) are a happy newlywed couple whose lives are changed by a car accident that puts Paige in a coma. Waking up with severe memory loss, Paige has no memory of Leo, a confusing relationship with her parents (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange), and an ex-fiance (Scott Speedman) she may still have feelings for. Despite these complications, Leo endeavors to win her heart again and rebuild their marriage.
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Leo (Channing Tatum) introduces The Vow's story by stating life is full of moments. These moments construct the relationships people share with one another. The Vow is Leo's story of the moments he spent with Paige (Rachel McAdams), both before and after a car crash that left her with memory loss of the time they had spent together. Leo's memories of their life together, how they met, fell in love, got married, have been erased from Paige's memory and The Vow aims to show how a couple who is seemingly meant to be together can find one another again.
Leo and Paige's story should be one of grand romanticism, and the film is marketed as such. The reality is that their story is quite short of grand, and more melancholy than one might expect. The vast majority of the film shows life post-accident for Leo and Paige. A time when she does not remember her feelings for him, and is in fact a completely different person; that person being the woman she was before she made certain life choices that would eventually lead to her meeting Leo. The opportunity afforded Leo to make Paige fall in love with him again is bittersweet, and at times touching, but then reality sets in. Paige has to deal with the loss of her memories and Leo baiting her with information, stifling her with past memories and expecting everything to snap into place quickly turns The Vow into a mourning of love lost more than a romance showcasing the glimmer of hope that still exists for the two. Falling in love with Leo and Paige being together never occurs, the feeling of sadness and empathy for what Leo and Paige have lost is constantly present, even at the end. The Vow may be the greatest of love stories, it just ceases to be that in this part of the story--perhaps a sequel actually showing Leo and Paige falling back in love is in order.
Focusing on moments in Leo and Paige's life together, pre and post accident, is the unfortunate downfall of The Vow. The film lacks a cohesive and well-maintained narrative structure; it focuses on pieces of their story instead of bridging the pieces together. What then occurs is a movie full of moments between two people, some happy, others sad, and some heartbreaking when Paige is unable to remember the love she felt for Leo and the strain that puts on him. But there is not enough backbone to make their deeply felt love for one another that Leo speaks of believable. The viewer must accept Leo's words as truth, instead of being shown the truth on screen. It is easy to show a couple having sweet moments together; it is difficult to resonate love onto the viewer when a movie is cut in two by one of the lead's characters personality. This break occurs after Paige loses her memory, and it happens quite quickly in the story. The only way to know Paige before the accident is through Leo's flashback memories, but Paige is never given her own set of memories and therefore the viewer is solely dependent on Leo to create pre-accident Paige, and it does not work.
You come to know the Paige after the accident; the one who drinks Blueberry Mojitos, has a great relationship with her family, and loves her high school friends--her ex-boyfriend Jeremy included. This "new" Paige is not very accessible, nor does she seem like a girl Leo would want to spend his life with given his personality. She is also the complete opposite of Leo's Paige, making it even harder to decipher exactly who this woman is presently. The Vow is about bringing two people back together, but Leo and Paige appear on screen as far too different after the accident to make one think they should be together. It is not until the end that there is a glimmer of hope for the two, and it all comes far too late in the story. The Vow is overly concerned in showing Paige as she was in Leo's eyes and not Paige as she is in her own. This flaw in the writing inhibits the story from grand romanticism as Leo continually tries to make Paige who she was before, neglecting the fact that she is not that woman, and Paige seemingly tries to become that woman in the hope that she may remember the lost years. The forced nature of Paige becoming who she was before, without actually remembering, may appear to some as a fated response to memory loss. That one person will inevitably make the same choices they did before as that is their destiny. That belief is all well and good, and The Vow would play a lot better had it approached the subject that way.
The vast majority of heterosexual women would likely agree that waking up next to Channing Tatum, and being told he is your husband who loves and adores you, is one dream you would happily have come true. The same may be said for men who find the adorableness of Rachel McAdams irresistible. Placing these two very attractive, and likable, actors together on screen pays off as much as it possibly can given the material to work with in The Vow. During the scenes where Leo and Paige are playing at love, or trying to re-discover it, they come across as a lovely pair. Their chemistry is not remarkable, more plausible. They lend a realness to the film, the way the small gestures of their body language corresponds or the charming smiles they give one another--thanks in part to their very charismatic selves. Even during the rough moments, and there are many of them, there is a spark between Tatum and McAdams, lending a great deal to an otherwise uninspired romantic movie.
February 10, 2012