Film Review: The Vow

For sheer romantic corn, this is, as Barbara Stanwyck said in 'Ball of Fire,' “right off the cob.” But it’s also the ultimate date movie, due to Channing Tatum, who becomes a star here, and the real-thing chemistry he shares with Rachel McAdams.

When Paige (Rachel McAdams) loses her memory after a car crash, it is up to her husband Leo (Channing Tatum) to, as he says, “make her fall in love with me again.” This ain’t easy, as all Paige can recall is her previous life before meeting him, which consisted of a wholly different, more conventional existence of wealth and stuffy privilege, in stark contrast to the bohemian days she and Leo eked out as, respectively, sculptress and music-studio owner. Adding to the dilemma is her formerly estranged family, comprised of a sister about to be lavishly married, and parents (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange) who want nothing more than for her to be again embosomed with them, leaving the too-raffish-for-their-tastes Leo out in the cold.

If anything, The Vow recalls those grandiose Hollywood women’s pictures of the 1940s, specifically Random Harvest, with its similarly amnesia-affected protagonist and loving, beyond-understanding, forgotten partner. It’s easy to envision, say, Bette or Joan as Paige, with reliable George Brent as Leo, Charles Coburn and Fay Bainter as her parents, and slippery Zachary Scott as Jeremy, her pesky yuppie pre-Leo lover, all worrying over this situation in their arty digs and palatial halls.

The good news is, like so many of those old epics, The Vow delivers the kind of pure audience satisfaction that had one woman announcing as she left the screening, “I gotta go home and tell my husband I love him!” Yes, the script is a mash-up of hoary clichés and Michael Sucsy’s direction undistinguished, if serviceable, but the thing has a nigh-irresistible emotional drive that keeps you watching and involved, even when your mind keeps telling you you should be scoffing. And this includes all the men who will inevitably be dragged to this by their partners on Valentine’s Day.

Tatum, as Ryan O’Neal was in that venerable tearjerker Love Story and Leonardo DiCaprio was in Titanic, is a very big part of the appeal, and this film could do for him what Titanic did for Leo. He’s the current young American cinematic ideal, looking like an Abercrombie model and yet able to invest a line like “How do you look at the girl you love and tell yourself it’s time to walk away?” with such gleaming-eyed, dogged earnestness that it short-circuits any risibility. McAdams has the more difficult role. From the moment Paige awakes from her crash-induced coma and reacts with shock and fear at the news that this hot, adoring hunk is her husband, you think, “Hey, dummy, he could have been Arnold Stang!” Her ensuing skittishness and shrinking from him may have you wanting to smack her, yet McAdams, thankfully, has enough innate allure and comic sprightliness to win you over, albeit somewhat grudgingly. With her feyness and wealth of brunette hair, she recalls Jennifer Jones, who was never more waifishly effective than when playing that other memorable amnesiac, Singleton (“Just Singleton”), in the grand, Gothic Ayn Rand-penned Love Letters.

Neill is properly bespoke and odious, while Lange has a strong, touching moment when she explains why she’s stayed with him through the years. But the real other star of the picture is Chicago, which, with its enchanting blankets of snow, misty lake, gleaming spires and funky cafés, is here presented as a romantic paradise to rival Paris, and damn if the filmmakers haven’t carried it off!