While The Vow will give heart palpitations to fans of its charming co-stars Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum, this amnesia-themed romance is the kind of featherweight fare that is enjoyed in the moment and forgotten soon after the end credits roll.
Director Michael Sucsy (the Emmy-winning 2009 TV movie Grey Gardens) works with cinematographer Rogier Stoffers and production designer Kalina Ivanov to bring a sumptuous visual style to the Chicago-set story – which was also filmed on location in the perfect Windy City stand-in, Toronto.
From the bohemian Café Mnemonic – the aptly named spot where Leo (Tatum) and Paige (McAdams) have their first date – to the funky converted warehouse spaces where the artsy couple live and work, The Vow gives us a steady supply of detailed and gorgeous settings. But the film's "McNugget" structure offers very little character or plot depth to cling to in the dark.
In the sparse opening voice-over, Leo describes a love relationship – or more specifically the memory of it – as "moments of impact."
And, indeed, the film starts with a big one. In dramatic slo-mo, Paige (who has just removed her seatbelt) flies head-first through the windshield of their car after it's hit by a large truck one snowy evening.
As Paige lies in an induced coma to let her brain heal, Leo takes us back four years ago to their first moment of impact (they meet at the city parking authority), followed by what amounts to the "greatest hits" of their courtship and marriage – first date, first fart in the car, getting married in the Art Institute without a permit etc. etc. These scenes function more like a fun, upbeat love montage as opposed to creating a portrait of a emotional bond that deserves to last.
When Paige awakes in the hospital she thinks Leo is her doctor. Memories of her life with him and of her career as a visual artist are completely gone. This is good news for her conservative suburban parents (Jessica Lange and Sam Neill), from whom she's been estranged for several years – much to her surprise.
Paige tentatively agrees to go home with Leo, and thus follows another series of little scenes engineered for comic effect. Leo barely recognizes this "sweater-set wearing, mojito-sipping" woman. She seems to have time-travelled back to approximately a year before she met him, when she was engaged to Jeremy (Scott Speedman) and enrolled at law school. But Leo believes the real Paige is still in there.
With no hope of Paige regaining those lost years, Leo must try to make his wife fall in love with him all over again. Not as easy the second time.
The Vow, which is driven by the appealingly earnest performances of McAdams and Tatum, is inspired by the real-life story of Krickitt Carpenter, who wrote a book about her experience. But her story is really just a jumping off point for the screenplay – for starters the Carpenters live in New Mexico and their Christian faith is a major part of their story.
Revealing the real-life connection just before the end credits does not suddenly transform The Vow into something beyond a mildly pleasing February diversion.
If you're looking for a profound romantic story for Valentine's Day, I suggest Random Harvest, the 1942 MGM classic with Ronald Colman as a First World War amnesia victim who falls in love with Greer Garson and then, after an accident, returns to his upper-class life in Liverpool, forgetting all about his old sweetheart. Ah, folks, they just don't make amnesia romances like they used to.
Special to The Globe and Mail
- Directed by Michael Sucsy
- Screenplay by Abby Kohn & Marc Silverstein and Jason Katims
- Starring Rachel McAdams, Channing Tatum, Jessica Lange, Sam Neill and Scott Speedman
- Classification: PG
- 2 stars