Two-dimensional characters don’t help ‘The Vow’s’ poor story

Gary Clift, arts critic

By A Contributor

Even by the standards set by recent romance movies based on novels by Nicholas Sparks, Michael Sucsy’s new film “The Vow” is pretty wretched stuff, Valentine’s Day candy that will wreck the emotional digestion of its audience for several days after a viewing.

The story is the worst kind of sentimental melodrama. A young married couple of Chicagoans, Page (Rachel McAdams) and Leo (Channing Tatum or Tatum Channing) seem to have the perfect thirteen-year-old girl’s idea of a life. They are each employed in the Arts—he owns a recording studio and she is a sculptor who has commissions awaiting. They eat in little bakeries and bistros. And they and their friends wear the silliest looking costumes I’ve seen in a movie in years. They want children.

Then there is a car accident. Leo is hurt, but he was strapped in. Page went head-first through the windshield and, after a time in a coma (how romantic!) she regains her consciousness without regaining her memory of the last five years.

This means she doesn’t recognize her husband. She doesn’t know what to do as a sculptor. She doesn’t know the little cafes or the couple’s friends, though she still dresses very oddly. She is embarrassed when Leo walks nude into their bedroom to begin his morning ablutions. And she certainly isn’t having anything like sex with that stranger, her spouse.

What she does remember is all that happened up to but, coincidentally, not including the big break in her life. She doesn’t remember why she left her suburban family’s home, left Ma (Jessica Lange) and Pa (a judge, played by Sam Neill) and sis and her own fiancee, quit law school, and moved into the city to take Art classes.

Now Page only remembers her circumstances before whatever it was happened that made her leave her folks. She thinks she is still engaged to the other fellow. She doesn’t remember Art school. And she has no idea what caused her to leave her family and cease all communication with them. Heck, Ma and Pa have never even met Leo until the accident.

Leo, we find out much later, does know why she wanted to avoid her family. But he doesn’t tell her, for reasons that are hurried over. When the audience finds out what event caused her to leave her parents’ home, they won’t think her action made much sense relative to the provocation. But, then, one isn’t really looking for logic in a romance novel plot.

Ignoring her doctor’s advice and embracing the supposed certainty of her relationship with her family, Page begins to leave Leo a little at a time. He tries to romance her, but that fails—why we’re not really sure. Dad buys her way out of her contracted sculpting work. She is readmitted to law school. Her old fiancee comes sniffing around and sneers at Leo in one scene, getting his nose flattened for his trouble.

No moviegoer will be surprised by the late turns in the plot—except to note that Page left her family, her career path, and her fiancee for a screwy reason. And even the romantics in the movie audience who are simple story fans will find the ending to be less than sensational.

That ending is just too small in scale for the movie. And it hasn’t been a big picture. It uses several simple sets over and over again and doesn’t ever really show any character doing anything purposeful—like work. Page always has plenty of money to set up a new household, but we have no idea from whence her money comes. And the characters are all two-dimensional. For example, Sam Neill’s judge is bad, bad.

And, really, so is “The Vow.” Don’t buy a ticket expecting anything as sophisticated as one of those Nicholas Sparks movies like “Dear John,” “Nights in Rodanthe,” “The Notebook,” or “Message in a Bottle”—you know, the classics.

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