Silver Screen: The Vow **
It's hard to believe the weepie romance The Vow was not written by Nicholas Sparks. Perhaps the only clue that Sparks isn't involved is that it lacks a southern beach setting. Otherwise, the cloying blend of pathos, stereotypes, and sweeping romantic gestures shot through a story about young lovers separated by grave medical conditions is right out of the Sparks playbook, which is conveniently written at a fifth-grade level.
The Vow even features Rachel McAdams, the distressed heroine of the most popular Sparks film adaptation, The Notebook. Once more her character is afflicted with clinical forgetfulness-- not in her old age as an Alzheimer's sufferer this time around, but thanks to a nasty bout of amnesia brought on by a car accident.
McAdams's Paige is a former straight-and-narrow sorority girl who forsook a comfortable life as a lawyer with smarmy fiancé Jeremy (Scott Speedman, all hair gel and chin cleft) to become a free-spirited artist. The newly hip Paige meets music producer Leo (Channing Tatum), and the two begin a quirky bohemian romance that leads to marriage.
But the fateful car accident that destroys Paige's memory erases the last several years of life from her mind, and when she wakes up on the hospital, she can only remember law school, her old friends, Jeremy, and her cartoonishly evil parents (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange), to whom she hasn't spoken in years for reasons we will quite obviously uncover in the final reel. Her WASP-y folks use the traumatic accident as a convenient reset button and try to separate her from her husband, drawing her back into her old life, which curiously seems of no concern to the various doctors attending to the severely traumatized Paige. They make one brief mention of her seeing a psychologist, but that falls quickly by the wayside and she's left to her own devices.
The melodramatic plot is predicated on some fundamental illogic. The first big stretch is that a person can change so significantly in the space of a couple years that their “new” life and personality would be essentially one-hundred percent unrecognizable to themselves. Paige not only doesn't know who Leo is, she seems disinterested in even trying to get to know him, utterly incompatible with him. That's dumb for a couple reasons, one being the contradiction that they recognized each other as soulmates the first time they met, yet now she can barely muster interest in talking to him. If you had amnesia but went to a house filled with photographs of yourself with a person and a mountain of evidence that you were deeply in love with them, would you not at least trust yourself? The screenplay, from Friday Night Lights writer Jason Katims and romance-pap purveyors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (Valentine’s Day, He's Just Not That into You), makes a feeble attempt to address this but utterly fails.
More to the point, however: It's Channing goddamn Tatum. If you woke up and an objectively beautiful person with a cool job and a warm personality was espousing eternal love for you, don't you think you'd be, at the very least, a little flattered? If the next time I open my eyes Amanda Seyfried is leaning over my hospital bed assuring me that she left her indie-rock band to take care of me in our charming city apartment, I'm going to roll with it.
Not Paige-- even by the most sympathetic reckoning of her situation, she's frigid and bitchy, implausibly antagonistic. It's almost impossible not to start hating her as the film wears on and she's easily seduced by money and suburban indulgences.
Frustratingly, the premise behind The Vow is actually an excellent one for a romantic drama. Paige's situation-- based on a true story to some degree or another, depending on how much you believe the epilogue-- is fraught with complications, and the notion of forgetting you love someone and trying to remember how is rife with possibilities. But The Vow takes every easy turn toward cliché and melodrama, pitting the do-gooder poor kid against the smarmy bourgeoisies. How much more interesting would the film have been if our memory-lapsed damsel had left her scruffy artist boyfriend for a nice rich guy, subverting our kneejerk American reaction to root for the underdog? We'll never know. Meanwhile, I'm going to drive haphazardly for the next few weeks hoping for a fender bender that makes me forget The Vow ever existed.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.