A film review by Craig J. Koban May 13, 2012


2012, PG-13, 104 mins.


Paige: Rachel McAdams / Leo: Channing Tatum / Mrs. Thornton: Jessica Lange / Mr. Thornton: Sam Neill / Jeremy: Scott Speedman

Directed by Michael Sucsy / Written by Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein and Jason Katims.

THE VOW can be aptly described as being part drama, part weepy romance...and part excruciatingly gag inducing. 

It concerns a woman that endures a horrible automobile accident and, as a result, suffers a neurological impairment that affects her – dear Lord! – memories of her husband, but just the period precisely from before the point of meeting him and the present.  The subject matter is kind of ironic: here’s a romantic drama that’s about brain trauma that feels written by screenwriters that suffer from the same aliment.  THE VOW is so submissively manufactured as a pre-packaged Valentine's weekend offering that it must have been the product of its writers putting up every conceivable film romance cliché in the book on the wall to which they randomly threw darts at them to decide what to include. 

THE VOW commits an intolerable sin: it begins with one of those annoyingly “this film is inspired by real events” title cards that's just as a vague of a claim as any film can make.  No mention as to the actual people that inspired the film are made in the film’s credits, so let me oblige you: THE VOW is based on Kim and Krickitt Carpenter and how they suffered through enormous personal tragedy several weeks after their marriage in 1993.  One fateful car accident led to Krickitt suffering from brain trauma and irreversible amnesia.  THE VOW’s end title cards states that Krickitt’s memories of her husband never returned, but they nonetheless re-fell back in love, married, and had kids.  What the film doesn’t tell you is that it was – in the Carpenters’ own views – a staunch believe in God and their faith in Jesus that allowed them to hook back up.  

It’s funny how that latter spiritual element made its way out of THE VOW, but it certainly appears that just about any other fact-based precedent from the Carpenters' story has been conveniently excised in order to throw in a head-smacking number of easy-to-digest and conflict-free Harlequin romance contrivances that all safely and securely march on to an inevitable happily-ever-after conclusion.  I am very certain that life for the Carpenters was not simple: there must have been serious emotional hardships to endure on their path to reconnecting with one another, not to mention that dealing with anyone riddled with something as mysterious and severely life altering as a brain injury is not easy either.  Yet, in the make-believe fantasyland that populates THE VOW, reality and logic be damned! 

Paige (Rachel McAdams) and Leo (Channing Tatum) are a young Chicago couple (n the film’s world, actually Toronto, which was the shooting location augmented with some very obvious CGI landscaping) that seems like they’re destined for a long life of happiness.  Paige has long since defied her parents (played by a very tired looking Jessica Lang and Sam Neil, performing as if they’re wondering why they agreed to be in this dreck) and has moved to the big city and enrolled at the School of the Art Institute where she hopes to become an eminent sculptor.  Leo has his own high aspirations as well: he has just opened his own independent recording studio and yearns to take young artists and mould them into super stars…unless, of course, they haven’t already recorded their own tracks on the laptops at home. 



One night changes this couple’s lives forever.  While Leo has stopped at a snow-covered intersection Paige makes a cardinal blunder of unbuckling herself from the passenger seat and expresses and interest to have sex with her husband, which seems like a really, really stupid idea, seeing as visibility is dreadful and parking in the middle of a busy icy street seems like a logical no-no.  Well, a large truck does smash into their vehicle and thrusts Paige head first through the front windshield and on to the hood of the car.  This footage should be required viewing at any Driver’s Ed class…or anyone that wants to make as case for abstinence. 

Leo survives relatively unscathed, but Paige is left in a coma and suffers a debilitating brain injury that – yup, wouldn’t you know it – causes her to lose all of her memories from the last five years.  This means that she conveniently has no memory at all of falling in love with and marrying Leo.  Conveniently, Paige remembers her family and her ex-fiancé, Jeremy (Scott Speedman) who manages to conveniently find himself back in her life while she’s recovering.  Paige's affluent and elitist parents don’t approve of her bohemian artist lifestyle, but since she conveniently has no memories of their disapproval the father conveniently tries to coerce her back to law school and back into the arms of her former flame.  Leo sees all of these obstacles in his path, but nonetheless bolsters up his determination to not lose the woman her loves forever. 

I have used the word convenient an awful lot when describing this film’s plot, perhaps because the script works on default autopilot throughout its 104 minutes.  I kind of rolled my eyes at the notion of Paige’s five-year memory loss, which seems to be just long enough for her not to remember meeting Leo, but not to forget her family and her ex-boyfriend.  She can drum up precise memories of her pre-Leo, pre-artist, and pre-estranged life with her mother and father, which allows for her father’s easy manipulation of her.  Uh-huh.  Sure.  The parents themselves and Speedman’s ex-husband-to-be characters are less flesh and blood personas than they are stock character types we have seen, like, thousands of times before: mother and father are detestable and manipulative rich snobs that disapprove of any of Paige’s lifestyle choices that they feel are beneath their standards and Jeremy is really just there for the sake of butting heads with the increasingly exasperated Leo and, in turn, to extrapolate some artificial conflict from an otherwise stress-free screenplay.  

Tatum and McAdams – as far as their performance styles are concerned - are kind of ill matched in the film.  One would hope that a scintilla of star chemistry between the pair would help override the film’s laundry list of laughable story machinations, but proverbial sparks never really fly as they should here.  McAdams is a limitlessly beautiful and headstrong actress that has one of the most radiant, 1000 watt smiles of the movies, but she seems to be letting her considerable talent get away from her in these types of perfunctory romance film roles;  after THE NOTEBOOK (which, to be fair, I loved), THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE (which, to be blunt, I despised) and now this she’s in danger being mournfully type-cast for the rest of her career.  Tatum is not McAdams' thespian equal and seems to display even less emotive range and conviction with each new dramatic role he takes.  I championed him recently in his breakout comic role in 21 JUMP STREET, but only because he has found a niche in comedy and is only tolerable in small dosages in drama.  He has a goofy charm that makes him a good fit for comedy, but with his breathless inflections, wooden mannerisms, and stiff line readings, he's kind of out of his element in drama . 

Yes, yes…I can understand that this film is not for me, but rather for non-discerning and rabid female fans of soap opera laced melodrama that hungrily salivate over this type of romantic drivel permeating our multiplexes.  THE VOW is not really an enriching or uplifting emotional or dramatic experience because it does not elevate itself beyond the status of a banal and tailored-made date flick product.  Less evolved viewers that find themselves taken in with this kind of syrupy, hanky-grabbing, and clunky claptrap theatrics will no doubt leave THE VOW feeling fulfilled.  For everyone else that’s not a sucker for its patronizing, road-most-traveled formulas, a coma would be more of an endearing experience.

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