The Vow Review

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Score

Rachel McAdams mistakes amnesia for being an extraterrestrial in this duff romantic drama.

With the rights to Nicholas Sparks' most recent novels already snapped up and Valentine's Day fast approaching, bringing together the leads of his two most successful screen adaptations to date by way of substitute must have seemed like a no-brainer.

Presumably unable to acquire a similar 'love conquers all' literary progenitor to bring in the same date-dollars already spent on the likes of The Notebook and Dear John, the writers of The Vow, all five of them, appear content to show little ambition beyond their high-concept pitch meeting, with pesky details such as believability, character development and narrative coherence (y'know, the bits not in the trailer) seemingly pardoned by their 'based on a true story' prefix.

It's not the amnesiac concept itself with which one might take umbrage, merely the breadth of the strokes with which every beat is painted. It may well be based on a true story, but we'd bet our own memory, Philip K Dick style, that this ain't it.

Leaving a movie theatre on a snowy night, loved-up couple Leo (Channing Tatum) and Paige (Rachel McAdams) get frisky in their car, with Meat Loaf emanating from the stereo and letting us know exactly what Leo will do for love (anything apparently, just not that). Enter stage left a skidding truck, which smacks into their car and sends Paige through the windscreen. When she wakes up in hospital days later, she has no recollection of the accident. She doesn't even remember that she's married, mistaking Leo for her doctor.

Having spent only a few minutes with the couple, the car crash itself, which plays out under the titles, lacks any emotional resonance. Any visceral impact it may have had reduced (presumably to keep the film 12A friendly) by the decision to present it in stylised slow motion. Only after the accident do we flash back four years, to the moment when they first met.

Leo, wearing a silly hat, posits the fact that they both share the same residential parking permits on their cars as reason enough for them to go for a drink. This seems reasonable enough to her, so we're presented with a 'getting-to-know-you' montage consisting of the sharing of chocolates/laughter.

Laughter at what though? We remain at an unprivileged distance throughout The Vow, as any scenes requiring dialogue beyond the perfunctory, dialogue that needs to function in a way that doesn't merely push the narrative forward, are drowned out by music. We see them talking, we hear bad pop. That great joke Leo apparently tells her is rendered inaudible. Instead, when an attempt is made to show us why they fell in love, it takes the form of him farting in the car and her closing the window whilst smiling at him: "That's so twisted, but so romantic," he says. "God, I love you."

Before we're returned to the present, we're briefly introduced to Leo's underwritten friends prior to an on-the-hoof exchange of the eponymous matrimonial vows: "I vow to officially love you, in all your forms". Suffice to say that the shape-shifting abilities to which Leo is presumably referring sadly fail to materialise.

But it's not just her husband that Paige has trouble remembering, it seems that she's forgotten every single detail of the past four years. She has no recollection of quitting law school and moving to the city, no recollection of splitting up with her creepy ex, Jeremy (Scott Speedman), and no memory of cutting all ties with her parents (a criminally wasted Sam Neill and Jessica Lange).

It's only when Leo snatches a piece of bacon from her hand that she's informed that she is, in fact, a vegetarian. For all intent and purpose, Paige has not only lost her memory, but become an entirely different person altogether, one whom we as an audience have never met and one so removed not only from our perception of the character presented to us thus far, but seemingly also from basic human functionality.

As she wanders around her flat, trying to find something to latch on to, getting lost in the streets surrounding her home or later pondering how a box of chocolates "works" makes one wonder if McAdams has misused the time she should have spent researching amnesia and instead had John Carpenter's Starman on loop. It's a substantial problem that the narrative focus of The Vow struggles to overcome, choosing to tell much of its story through Paige's eyes when any potential for emotional engagement ultimately lies with Leo.

As he's left to try and make her fall in love with him all over again, contending with the vying interests of her parents, her high school friends and ex-boyfriend as they attempt to re-write her missing years to their advantage. Her chronic brain trauma is, by this point, reduced to a throwaway plot device. We're instead left to follow her journey of self (re)discovery, whilst Leo sits alone, morosely strumming his guitar.

This post-crash Paige, with whom we spend the most time, remains so ridiculously cold and unengaged, so emotionally disconnected that it's hard to see why Leo is even bothering. It's a problem that stems as much from McAdams' vacant performance as from the lacklustre writing. Tatum may well be a terrible actor, but he's a likeable enough screen presence, displaying a certain charm in his squirming attempts to find something to do with his hands whilst simultaneously delivering a line of dialogue.

As the dire inevitability of the third act surfaces, we're left with the sinking feeling that it takes a lot less than being plunged through a car windshield to forget the last two hours of our lives.

Anticipation

A Nicholas Sparks knock-off that's been purpose built for Valentine's Day automatons.

2

Enjoyment

Rachel McAdams mistakes amnesia for being an extraterrestrial.

2

In Retrospect

Duff beyond words, with some appealing performances wasted.

1
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