Based on a true story, The Vow is designed to increase tissue sales in this strategic pre-Valentine’s Day release that tugs at the heartstrings in this affair to remember.
After meeting in 1992, Kim Carpenter and Krickitt Pappas fell in love and were married not longer afterwards. However, after only 10 weeks of marriage, their vow was put to the test when they were involved in a car accident and Krickett lost all memory of their relationship together. Already filmed once, as a small segment in Salaam-e-Ishq: A Tribute to Love, it has been given the Hollywood treatment after almost two-decades via Grey Gardens helmer Michael Sucsy.
Changing the timelines and the alliterative names slightly, not to mention dropping much of the Christian elements that make up the Carpenters’ tale, The Vow sees free-spirited artist Paige (Rachel McAdams) and husband Leo (Channing Tatum) married five years when they encounter their near-fatal car accident. Paige can’t remember Leo at all, and still believes she is a college student of law living with her parents (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange). Despite Leo’s efforts, Paige can’t remember the feelings she had for him. Paige’s parents urge him to give up and move on with his life, but his love for her will not let him sacrifice her so easily.
Weepies in the mould of The Vow are normally a pretty cut-and-dry affair, with audience amnesia kicking in the second one steps out of the theatre. However, this latest tissue salesman has a few surprises up its sleeve, not least of which are the charming leads. Tatum is not usually given a chance to flex his more sensitive side, so it is quite a shock that he is so sweet and endearing in this film. His affection for McAdam’s character seems genuine, and the goofy earnestness with which he carries out his seduction redux may be textbook romance-drama stuff, but it accounts for the success of the first half of the film. Likewise, McAdams effortlessly charms the hats off everybody, getting to play at least two characters in the film.
The film suffers somewhat in the tedious second act, which becomes a bit of a Groundhog Day of failed attempts at wooing. Where 50 First Dates at least had the comedy motif of someone forgetting the love of their life every day, The Vow (for a time) falls into an endless loop of parental disputes, advice from friends and almost-but-not-quite moments. This is not aided by Sam Neill’s father figure, who strangely has been portrayed as a moustache-twirling pawn-master, manipulating those around him to suit his own whims. His perpetual interfering is simply frustrating, and the ultimate pay-off to the parent’s storyline is disappointing and all-too-convenient. Also: what the hell happened to Jessica Lange? She seems to have emerged from American Horror Story looking worse for wear on the other side. Meanwhile, Scott Speedman once again turns up to play a massive tool.
Yet those who are familiar with the real-life events will know that this doesn’t have a typically Hollywood ending, and this may be the most pleasant surprise of all. Buoyed by a terrific soundtrack featuring The National, OK Go and The Cure, The Vow chooses the path less travelled, not necessarily solving everything with a kiss but the promise of one. Manipulative it may be, but this is one of those rare occasions where the portrayal of love is actually quite genuine.