Just in time for Valentines Day, The Vow may be a by-the-numbers Hollywood romance, but the filmmakers aren’t afraid to take chances. It is a sweet-natured strumming of the heartstrings with an interesting premise: an amnesiac who cannot remember her husband. It’s a romantic melodrama that tries to make us fall in love with a couple in which the husband has to try to make his wife fall in love with him all over again. Rachel McAdams stars as Paige, a sculptor married to Leo, a recording studio owner played by Channing Tatum. When they’re involved in a tragic car accident as a result of a skidding truck slamming into their parked car on a snowy night and Paige being hurtled through the windshield, Leo suffers a few cuts and bruises but Paige ends up in a coma. And as a result of her brain trauma, when she wakes up she experiences severe memory loss, so extreme that she can’t remember anything from the last five years, including her husband, whom she doesn’t recognize.
Paige’s selective amnesia prevents her from being able to recollect her life with her husband, but she recalls pretty much everything else that preceded their relationship. What she cannot determine is when and how she became the person that her husband now claims she has been in recent years. In reverting to her previous personality, she remembers her ex-fiancé, Jeremy, whom she broke it off with (played by Scott Speedman), and her wealthy parents (played by Jessica Lange and Sam Neill), whom she does not recall being estranged from. The three of them are intent on wrenching Paige from Leo’s grasp. Wanting desperately to regain the love of the woman he married in sickness and in health, Leo does manage to convince her to stay with him anyway, hoping that once back in their home, she will regain her recent memories. But he’ll have to re-woo her.
In his feature debut, the director, Michael Sucsy , working from an intelligent inspired-by-true-events screenplay, keeps his twice-in-a-lifetime love story relatively low-keyed and quietly moving, veering just slightly off course just when we think things are about to get overly clichéd. The memory loss as a story device turns out to be much less generic and familiar than it sounds on the surface. So, is this simply a knee-jerk, three-hankie weepy for incurable romantics? Not as long as the endearing McAdams can make you like her despite her standoffishness. And Tatum, not the most expressive of actors, is nonetheless convincing as a sincere suitor. McAdams and Tatum trail their Nicholas Sparks-sparked credentials behind them, she for The Notebook, he for Dear John, although The Vow employs more of a light, humorous touch to the proceedings than either of those serious heart-tuggers. But it’s the individual and collective appeal of the sympathetic, engaging leads that mitigates against the film’s more predictable tendencies. The Vow may not be all that memorable, but it’s charming and pleasant. The exterior back drops of Chicago are also worth a look.