'The Vow' Is Conventional, with Complications

The Vow is a conventional love story with a ghostly chasm in the middle, a weepie for Valentine’s Day cinemagoers.

The Vow

Director: Michael Sucsy
Cast: Channing Tatum, Rachel McAdams, Sam Neill, Jessica Lange
Rated: PG
Studio: Spyglass
Year: 2012
US date: 2012-02-10 (General release)
UK date: 2012-02-10 (General release)

Leo (Channing Tatum) and Paige (Rachel McAdams) are stepping out into a snowy Chicago one evening. They’re young, married, and in love. But the couple will pay the price that accompanies any snow-bound car trip late at night at the start of this sort of movie: when they stop to share a moment of passion, a truck rams them from behind. Paige, in excruciating slow-mo, is thrown through the windshield. When she wakes up, she can’t remember a thing about the accident. She doesn't remember her husband either.

Cue flashback to happier times. The pair meet; he brings her a gift to the café where she works, staring at her with adoring puppy-dog eyes in the pouring rain. "An individual is the sum total of every moment they ever experience," Leo narrates, in an exactingly articulate voiceover. The Vow begins like a slushy Nicholas Sparks movie, maudlin and wet. Leo must take his wife home to their Chicago apartment and get her to fall in love with him all over again. This against the wishes of her wealthy, lemon-sucking parents (Jessica Lange and a more reptilian than usual Sam Neill), who are only meeting Leo for the first time now and are more than disappointed that he owns a recording studio.

The charms of the courtship and marriage established, the film turns to what comes after the accident, namely, Leo’s discovery that his wife is reverted to what he calls her "sweater-set-wearing, mojito-drinking, sorority girl" former self, complete with a former fiancé (Scott Speedman) she doesn't remember leaving. The Vow is "inspired by" a true story, which doesn’t mean much; still, it's less superficial than most of its rom-com brethren. It doesn’t cut very deeply into its traumatic and painful subject matter, but director Michael Sucsy invests the scenes between the couple with warmth and awkwardness. The Vow is a conventional love story with a ghostly chasm in the middle.

It’s a little bit of a shame, then, that so much of the emotional heft hinges on Tatum. He plays inscrutable action heroes or dancers well enough, but he’s a blankly uncommunicative romantic lead. There’s something bullish and set about his face; his range seems restricted to wiggling his eyes up and down a chiseled forehead.

Luckily, McAdams doesn’t hold back; always a lovely screen presence, here she brings a commitment to Paige, suggesting that her vacant smile masks a genuine effort to sort out her confusion and frustration. If Leo’s commitment is a given -- he loves his wife and wants her back -- The Vow’s emotional center is Paige. Her doctor helpfully diagnoses that she's avoiding the trauma and might be better off if she recalled her more recent life; we agree, of course, because her previous self is a shallow materialist. The screenplay flounders with her.

If it’s a foregone conclusion that Paige will somehow find herself again, the film resists a formulaic route to it and includes nice cinematography of Chicago landmarks (the Art Institute, the Cloud Gate) as well as a few of its famously wintry streets. The use of the Cure’s "Pictures of You" as a key musical cue is inspired too. If the split between the New Paige and the Old Paige is simplistic, The Vow uses it to suggest the complications of relationships over time.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.