Author Nicholas Sparks tells stories of a very specific type: the kind of tragic romance that so easily translate into Hollywood weepies. Without wanting to spoil A Walk to Remember, The Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe and The Lucky One, the characters in those films are affected by (in random order) Alzheimer’s, PTSD, Leukaemia and death by mudslide. In each one of these stories, love overcomes (or fails to overcome) enormous obstacles. To some people, these are unbearably schmaltzy chick-flicks but to others, these are the staples of movie nights spent tucked under a duvet with a box of tissues.
Now understand this: The Vow is not a film based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, but it might as well have been written by some automated Sparks screenplay-writing simulacrum. In fact, this was inspired by a real-life story.
Newlyweds Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams have their perfect lives shattered when she is critically injured in a car accident. Emerging from a coma, she has absolutely no memory of her husband or their life together. What good are marriage vows when one party cannot remember making them? There are a lot of plot contrivances involved, of course and we’re not sure how medically feasible her condition is: she reverted to exactly the person she was before she met him, like someone pushing a ‘factory reset’ button. Instead of being an idealistic starving artist that Tatum feel in love with, she’s a materialistic, aspiring lawyer who’s still in love with her Patrick Bateman-esque ex-fiancé (Scott Speedman). “I’ve got to make my wife fall in love with me again!” Tatum says out loud at one point, signalling his primary objective.
This begins a very short and meandering series of events where Tatum tries to re-jog her memory by taking her to all their favourite places. These scenes are not particularly fun and slavishly follow the same structure: Tatum shows her something, she does not remember it, he feels hurt, she feels bad. Those scenes are almost heartbreaking, but they’re peppered between scenes with McAdams’ rich, obnoxious parents. Sam Neill’s villainous mustache-twirler of a dad is the biggest obstacle in Tatum’s way and seems out of place in this film. Note: if your girlfriend’s rich father shares some of his prized whiskey with you, he’s probably about to say something really threatening.
If you were to look at the plot rationally (which we do not recommend), you’ll find loads of illogical silliness. The big upside is the inherent likability of the films’ leads: they manage to find the emotional truths amidst the saccharine plot turns. In only the last year, Channing Tatum has quickly turned into one of favourite leading men, taking roles that rely on more than just his muscled physique and ridiculous lantern jaw.
This is one of those films that you’ve already made up your mind about. If you love your swooning romances and are regularly willing to look past plot contrivances, you’ll find much to like in The Vow.