February 10, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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THE VOW:  Not Even For Free – Forget About It


This year has brought us a far-fetched, but ultimately moving and deeply romantic story about a couple who have finally gotten together and married after a great deal of turmoil and who then face their greatest challenge of all:  a fluke accident deprives the wife of any memory of her beloved, and when, despite all his desperate efforts, he’s unable to make her remember their past, he sets out, with equal parts tenderness and determination, to make her fall in love with him all over again.

I speak, of course, of the final season of Chuck.

As it happens, the new movie THE VOW tells much the same story, only without the chase scenes and machine gun battles.  Unfortunately the filmmakers also left out the emotional depth and snappy dialogue that Chuck provided.  In their stead, we get much sappiness and almost nothing that’s convincing.  


In The Vow‘s version, Paige (Rachel McAdams) and Leo (Channing Tatum) are 4 years married, and share a marital bliss that only movie couples about to suffer tragedy are permitted.  She’s a sculptor and he owns a struggling recording studio; their combined incomes allow them to own a house and studio roughly the size of a city block.  One night a truck rear-ends their car, and Paige is propelled through the windshield in slow-motion (miraculously without shedding a drop of blood).  When she comes out of her coma, she’s fine… except that she’s entirely forgotten the events of the last 5 years, which includes her entire relationship with Leo.  As much as he lovingly leads her through their things and prompts her with memories, he remains a complete stranger to her.

The people she does remember are those from earlier in her life, and conveniently for the movie’s sake, it turns out that this was just about the time she completely changed everything in her lifestyle, leaving law school, the suburbs, her parents (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange) and her then-fiancee Jeremy (Scott Speedman) for reasons that aren’t revealed until the end of the story.  Since she doesn’t remember the reason she left them, those are the people she now feels comfortable with, and she goes back to her former pre-marriage life.

This is where The Vow almost threatens to become interesting, because the old Paige was very nearly a Mean Girl, a rich, closed-off law student whose friends might as well be named Muffy and Heather.  A movie about a free spirit who retreats to the world of snobbery and creature comforts might have something on its mind, but this isn’t that movie.  The script, credited to the team of Abby Kohn & Marc Silverstein (responsible for He’s Just Not That Into You and Valentine’s Day) and shockingly to the great Jason Katims, of Friday Night Lights and Parenthood (one would like to think his contribution was limited to Leo’s recording studio, since it echoes a plotline on Parenthood), makes Paige’s parents cartoons of well-off arrogance, and the ex-fiancee is of course an insensitive villain who ultimately has to be punched by Leo.  So Paige’s desire to re-enter their clearly inferior world just makes her seem like an idiot, and the explanation of why she moved away in the first place is a silly plot revelation.

Tatum and McAdams are both likable, charismatic performers, and they’re all The Vow has going for it (aside from one decent scene for Jessica Lange in the last reel), but they don’t have the tools to create characters that aren’t on the page.  Tatum mostly looks doggedly puppydogish (taking off his shirt at every opportunity), while McAdams alternates between “puzzled” and “troubled”.

The direction of Michael Sucsy, who made the HBO Grey Gardens, is slick and completely lacking in personality, as are the technical credits.  You know a romantic movie is in trouble when the central couple temporarily break up and you find yourself thinking that maybe they really are better off apart; The Vow accomplishes the truly difficult feat of making Nicholas Sparks adaptations look nuanced and convincing.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."