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MOVIE REVIEW

'The Vow' avoids genre’s saccharine pitfalls

By Philip Martin

This article was published February 10, 2012 at 3:24 a.m.

leo-channing-tatum-and-paige-rachel-mcadams-are-a-hipster-couple-whose-marriage-is-tested-after-she-wakes-up-from-a-coma-with-no-memory-of-the-past-five-years-in-the-vow

Leo (Channing Tatum) and Paige (Rachel McAdams) are a hipster couple whose marriage is tested after she wakes up from a coma with no memory of the past five years in The Vow.

— There are a lot of reasons to approach The Vow with caution.

First of all, it is one of those “inspired by a true story” movies, albeit one where the key screenwriters - Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein - never read the nonfiction book which allegedly stirred them to write the script. (Actually one of the film’s producers was inspired by a brief newspaper article about a real-life couple, Kim and Krickitt Carpenter, who remained married after she lost her memory in a car crash.)

Secondly, amnesia is one of those hazily understood medical conditions that lazy writers sometimes use conveniently - in some movies a character’s profound memory loss tends to come and go like a Keanu Reeves British accent.

And finally, any plot synopsis of The Vow is likely to make it sound like a weepie woman’s movie - since it is all about the dogged devotion of a big lug who demonstrates extraordinary patience when the love of his life wakes up not only not knowing who he is but still in love with the fiance she threw over five years earlier.

Even as I sit down to write this review, I’m not really sure the movie works on any rational level. I don’t expect it to be received well by critics, and I have no idea of its commercial prospects. All I know is that I went into the theater with reservations, with a palpable fear of having to sit through a Nicholas Sparks-style melodramatic “epic love” story (yes, I hated The Notebook), and I still managed to find considerable pleasure in The Vow.

Part of it is simply the cuteness factor - Rachel McAdams playing adorable is adorable, and even when she plays testy she manages to retain our empathy. In other words, she’s a movie star in the unassuming girl-next-door mode, a 21st-century Betty Grable or June Haver.

And Channing Tatum is like the Tim Tebow of leading men - he doesn’t really have much in the way of traditional acting chops, but he’s so earnest and genuinely bighearted that you simply have to root for him. In The Vow, he’s seriously miscast as Leo, a hip Chicago musician/businessman (he owns his own recording studio). There’s a scene toward the end in which he finally picks up an acoustic guitar and plays (perfectly) a simple, beautiful little figure. Somehow, you just know he practiced the little piece for weeks.

Still, you can believe in his willingness to go to extremes to try to win back the love of his wife, Paige, after she wakes up from a coma believing he’s her doctor. (And why wouldn’t he - after all, she looks just like Rachel McAdams!)

But the new Paige doesn’t remember anything that has happened in the past five years. She can’t imagine why she dropped out of law school to become a sculptor, why she broke off her engagement with corporate lawyer Jeremy (Scott Speedman) or why she got that tattoo on her back. And while this Leo fellow seems like a perfectly nice guy, he’s really not her type. And how did her taste in clothes devolve to junkshop boho?

But most importantly of all, why hasn’t she been in touch with her loving, supportive parents - the well-cast Sam Neill and Jessica Lange - these past few years?

Leo does his best to ease Paige back into his - their - life, but she quite naturally ends up back in the bosom of her wealthy family, who, having lost her once to the urban hipster lifestyle, are inclined to pay Leo off and shine him on. But he still loves her, and he knows he can make her love him again. But will true love prevail?

Well, the truth is The Vow might (mildly) surprise you. It’s better looking than it has to be; director Michael Sucsy (HBO’s Grey Gardens) sets his story in a slightly heightened reality (Leo’s funky loft deserves a spot in the wonderful if unlikely movie living spaces Hall of Fame) full of vibrant blue and warm terra cotta.

If the story is implausible, that just puts it in line with a long tradition of Hollywood love stories - like 1940’s I Love You Again, about a straight-laced businessman (William Powell) who after being conked on the head reverts to his previous life as a con man and realizes he’s in love with the woman (Myrna Loy) he’s about to divorce. Execution is what really matters in B-movies, and as silly as it sounds, The Vow is a remarkably restrained, sweet little movie that never tugs so hard it becomes annoying.

The Vow 87 Cast: Rachel McAdams, Channing Tatum, Scott Speedman, Sam Neill, Jessica Lange, Jessica Mc-Namee Director: Michael Sucsy Rating: PG-13, for an accident scene, sexual content, partial nudity and language Running time: 104 minutes

MovieStyle, Pages 31 on 02/10/2012

Print Headline: Don’t fear the weeper

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