Those woefully unfortunate males who end up accompanying their womenfolk to this bad romance will fall into three categories: the considerate, the conniving and the confused.
The considerate won’t mind if their significant others spend two mindless hours drooling over hunky himbo Channing Tatum as Leo, the dreamily dumb owner of a Chicago recording studio. The conniving hope their dates will get so worked up watching Leo tenderly romance his amnesiac wife Paige (Rachel McAdams) that resistance to their own advances afterward will be futile. And the confused are those who think this earnestly sappy nonsense won’t make them want to run for the exits in search of their self-respect.
The Vow is ridiculously sincere and completely unselfconscious about its unbelievable setting, utterly artificial characters and achingly melodramatic plot. Perfect couple Leo and Paige are stopped at a red light discussing the likelihood of conceiving a child by having sex in their car when they are rear-ended by a dump truck. Thrown through the windshield, Paige awakens later in a hospital with no memory of Leo. She’s also forgotten that she dropped out of law school to pursue a career as a free-spirited sculptor, she can’t remember why she is estranged from her wealthy parents and she doesn’t recall any of her theatrically bohemian friends.
That means it’s up to Leo to get Paige to fall in love with him all over again. This shouldn’t be difficult, considering how puppy-dog playful, swoony soulful and male-stripper buff the guy is. But Paige is so blankly resistant to his charms that she may as well be a repressed robot, or maybe a Republican. The newly strait-laced Paige is as surprised to hear that Barack Obama is president as she is to learn that she voted for him, which plays like Hollywood shorthand for heartlessness.
Her stern father (Sam Neill) is a judgmental judge who is smugly pleased by Paige’s personality change. Also happy to have her back among the one-percenters is Paige’s former fiancé Jeremy (Scott Speedman), a cocky lawyer who can’t resist needling Leo about bedding his wife. Jessica Lange is Paige’s mother Rita, whose permanently pained look hints that Paige may have had good reason to break off contact with the family. (Lange previously starred in director/co-screenwriter Michael Sucsy’s Grey Gardens HBO feature.)
Although inspired by a real incident, so little of the movie rings true that it is obvious most of the screenplay is fabricated. The source material, a non-fiction autobiography by Kim and Krickitt Carpenter, includes a heavy emphasis on how that couple’s religious faith helped them renew their love for each other. That element is completely missing from the entirely secular film version.
The movie’s “making of” production notes hilariously attempt to justify the liberties taken with the Carpenters’ story by including this quote from a producer: “Honoring the emotional reality of such an extraordinary incident required coming up with an original story that had the right balance.” That’s industry-speak for “what really happened was so emotionally real that it had to be replaced by something flagrantly fake.”
For guys who want to be Valentine’s Day martyrs, taking a date to this dreadful movie qualifies as a truly selfless sacrifice. But those with less fortitude or desperation may want to settle for a nice box of chocolates.
[Rating: 1 star]
The Vow is released in theatres on February 10, 2012