‘The Vow’ should probably be forgotten

Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum in 'The Vow'
Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum in ‘The Vow’

There are few phrases that will make me cringe as badly as the words “Inspired by True Events” do when I see them on a movie screen before a film begins.  The fear that liberties taken by those who adapted the true story for the screen will harm rather than enhance the presentation of the tale is a fear born of long experience.  Those fears come home to roost in The Vow.

The Vow is a cloying tale that wants to drive your emotions for you as you see their story unfold. Starring Channing Tatum as Leo and Rachel McAdams as Paige, it follows this young married couple whose blissful existence is shattered when they are involved in a car accident that largely erases Paige’s memory.

Turns out that Paige, who was an art student when she serendipitiously met her husband-to-be, and is now a successful artist, was a much different woman before they met.  She was a law student and engaged to a man she’d known for a long time before dumping him, turning her back on her suburb-residing family and moving into the city of Chicago.  This is all brought to the forefront after the accident, which has robbed Paige of memory of Leo.  She can’t remember their wedding, their home, or even the charming “meet-cute” that brought them together (credit for “meet-cute” to Nancy Meyers’ smart film The Holiday).

Once Paige is ready to return to the urban dwelling she shares with Leo, her parents Bill (Sam Neill) and Rita (Jessica Lange) attempt to intervene.  They want Paige to return home with them, to a home she remembers, rather than go off with someone who seems a complete stranger to them.  Her doctor, Dr. Fishman (Wendy Crewson in a brief, strong effort) advises against this, suggesting that going back to her prior existence is the best way for her memories to return.

The return home is problematic and the problems multiply.  The moment in time to which Paige’s memories are tuned into was a moment where she was still engaged to Jeremy, still a law school student and wore her hair much differently, and the changes that had taken place in her life are things she is not immediately comfortable with.  As things worsen, with the continued absence of her memories of Leo, she chooses to move back home with her parents.

While the excuse is that her sister’s upcoming wedding and her mother’s need for help with this and a myriad of other things, the truth is she’s not gaining any comfort level with Leo.

The rest is as easily predicted as any Nicholas Sparks novel and the fans and detractors of film adaptations of his works may well believe he is the one to credit or blame for what ends up on the screen.  We can fix the blame on the writers, which based on the credits include director Michael Sucsy. A view of his film resume leaves one wondering just what went on in the interim from his time as a PA onDeep Impact and his return to film some 10 years later in Grey Gardens.

The leads are very good, even excellent when one considers the pedestrian material they are forced to work with.  McAdams is capable of charming any device with a lens and Tatum delivers the emotional conflict a man who loves a woman who can no longer return that love would be expected to experience.

I didn’t want the 104 minutes of my life back, but there were other things I might have preferred spending them on.

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