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Anyone who’s previously been exposed to the work of screenwriters Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein will know what to expect from The Vow. Fans who lapped up the prefab boy-girl inanities of He’s Just Not That Into You, Valentine’s Day and Never Been Kissed will likely fall for it, while those who suffered through any of the above would rather do latrine duty during a diarrhea outbreak than be subjected to this, their blood relation. Screen Gems’ slow, sincere romantic concoction cannot conceal what it is, a commodity manufactured to be sold to a very specific audience for Valentine’s Day. Women supposedly get to call the shots on what film to see on this holiday, and enough will pick this to make it click at the box office. But good luck to the young men who get roped into going.
The Vow has the benefit of being based on a true story (a postscript shot reveals — big surprise — that the couple in question look nothing like Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum), but its melodramatic premise more than anything resembles soapy tearjerkers of the ’30s and ’40s in which incredibly extreme predicaments prevented lovers from being together or mothers from holding on to their children. Such heart-tuggers have their appeal to some people in any era, but earnest hokum of this nature has become increasingly rare. And for a reason.
Still, if it’s cast correctly and directed with a straight face, you can fool some of the people some of the time, and so it will likely be for this cocktail of contrivance. In the lulling opening scene, lovebirds Paige (McAdams) and Leo (Tatum) emerge from the beautiful old Chicago cinema the Music Box on an enchanting snowy night, get in their car and are promptly rammed from behind by a truck, sending Paige flying through the windshield (in extremely slow motion).
Cut to four years earlier and the beginning of the Paige-Leo love story, which is cute enough, particularly when they marry surreptitiously in a gallery of the Art Institute of Chicago (where she’s a student). But back in the present, trumped-up conflict arrives at the hospital in the form of Paige’s long-absent parents (Sam Neill, Jessica Lange), rich old prigs who try to use the excuse of their daughter’s memory loss of her more recent years — she hasn’t a clue who Leo is — to pry her away from her husband and bring her back to their Lake Forest nest.
The key to the film for dreamy-eyed girls ready, willing and anxious to capitulate is that Leo is truly in love with Paige. Reluctantly agreeing to return to their (very expensively appointed) downtown loft to see if a reintroduction to her old routine will begin to jar her memory loose, Paige isn’t even jolted into recognition by the sight of her hunky husband naked (from the rear, as far as the audience is concerned). But Leo perseveres and, through all manner of rejection, trouble from her parents and a downturn at the recording studio he runs, he dedicates himself to the proposition that, “I’ve got to make my wife fall in love with me again.”
In due course, he asks her out on a “first date,” gets her to skinny dip (with underwear) in Lake Michigan and accompanies her back to their old haunt, the Cafe Mnemonic (ha-ha). She still can’t remember Leo, who waits patiently and chastely (but often without his shirt on) through it all, even when Paige has no trouble remembering her high school amour Jeremy (Scott Speedman), whom she jilted but who wants to take advantage of the unusual situation to snatch his prize back from Leo’s grasp.
In his big-screen feature debut, Michael Sucsy, who made his name with the HBO dramatization of Grey Gardens, directs with computerlike precision; every composition and cut is made with its calculated effect readily evident. Particularly egregious are the countless music cues for the pale pop songs, on each one of which you can feel the button being pushed for the desired emotional effect.
It’s hard to know how a woman is supposed to behave if she has a several-years memory gap, but McAdams makes this one pretty spunky, if clueless of what to make of this muscled guy who has nothing but great things to say about her and the times they had together. While limited in range, to be sure, Tatum is actually OK with what he has to do; he never strains to achieve something he’s not able to pull off, and he does make you believe he’s taken with this young lady to the exclusion of all others; he’s good to his vow.
Chicago gets to show off in a number of shots, particularly in the Grant Park lakefront area, but most of the film was shot in Toronto.
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