Movie Review: The Vow (2012)

Spyglass Entertainment
Runtime: 104 minutes
Rated: PG-13 (for an accident scene, sexual content, partial nudity, and some language)
Director: Michael Sucsy
Writers: Jason Katims, Abby Kohn
Starring: Rachel McAdams, Channing Tatum, Jessica Lange, Sam Neill
Drama / Romance

As the first high-aiming romance movie for 2012, The Vow has a lot going for it. It has that welcome distinction of actually making its audience experience what it feels like to bubble over in true love.

But such movies never give us just one or two emotions to tangle with. They give us a wide range of them. They take us through heartbreak to complete despair and back. We begin as we meet a happy newlywed couple, “Paige” (Rachel McAdams) and “Leo” (Channing Tatum). They are heading home when they are rear-ended by a truck. The accident puts them both in the hospital with Paige taking the worst of it. When she wakes up, she doesn't remember her old life, or the most important person in it.

Trying to resume a pattern of daily experiences that should be familiar to her from the memories once made, Paige reluctantly goes home from the hospital with Leo, but he is a stranger to her. The only familiar comforts are her parents (Jessica Lange, Sam Neill) who are fighting to get her to come back home and live with them, and her ex-boyfriend “Jeremy” (Scott Speedman) whom she doesn't even remember breaking up with—all this while Leo's world falls apart as he endures the living loss of being a stranger to the girl he married. There is a lot of drama going on here, and it gets grim at times.

It hits nearly all the high marks with its two chemistry-conjoined stars, and in the process, just about restores our faith in real love on the big screen. Critics' reviews have, by and large, not been favorable, but I'm happy to say that they are wrong on this one. You heard it here.

McAdams and Tatum give us more than the average romance buff could ask for. This makes a movie that will not rely on clichés or the typical bad takes on couples humor, but gives us a story you can't help but cry about. And get this: it's not set in New York! That right there deserves points.

We love McAdams and Tatum and they let us know how much they love their roles without on-queue crying, accompanied by stares into each other's eyes. And when even a hit-or-miss presence like Tatum can have a part in making us cry, we know something has been done right!

What isn't right are some shallow supporting performances and some things that could (and should) have been written out of the script. Take, for instance, Leo owns an old-school recording studio, not so much for the profit, but for love of good acoustics. Paige dropped out of law school to pursue surreal art. Who makes money at this stuff? And yet they appear to be doing very well until the accident. These don't resonate with the audience so well, but probably more so than some unneeded strands of dialog that are interspersed (some of which are in segments of the film that could have been cut out).

What some will take more issue with is the film' tendency to play heavily on a medical condition to heighten a romance. It happens to be that those who suffer permanent or temporary memory loss from accidents tend to lose small chunks of time and details, not entire chapters or years worth of living. But we can't be too hard on this, as it does happen, with this movie being a “based on a true story” example of a deeply religious couple who, in 1993, had this exact thing happen to them. Kim and Krickitt Carpenter are who this movie is based off of. We are told they take issue with the movie because it doesn't so much as utter a peep about Jesus and God with the religious backstory they wanted included.

But to general audiences, that doesn't matter. We watch and are mostly amazed, very seldom finding the desire to roll our eyes at some of the elements brought to us from lesser care taken in the writing. The plot sometimes toys with us in its moderating intensity and can tire us as it refuses to satisfy our expectations as life often can. And right to the end, it doesn't let up. In that time, any mild bouts of frustration are relieved by the appeal of McAdams who is absolutely mesmerizing.

What I can't figure out is why this was not titled “The Vows.” It is the deep love of both Leo and Paige that we are shown at such mentally exhausting lengths (yes, the movie exhausts viewers because it is long and goes to arduous efforts to explore all of its space). But “The Vow” sounds like some horror movie wherein a satanic cult begins spilling blood to fulfill an oath with Lucifer in some small town.

Let opinions differ as they will; this film will gloriously find its audience. Of that, I have not the slightest doubt.

“Love stories always find an audience.” 
- Jackie K. Cooper