By Lisa Schwarzbaum
February 21, 2012 at 05:00 AM EST
Sony Pictures Classics
  • Movie

In some ways, The Vow is just average awful — the kind of typically gooey, sub-Nicholas Sparksy romance that rolls into movie theaters each year around Valentine’s Day, only to be hustled off the screen and forgotten as soon as February 14 has safely passed. In this year’s glop — inspired, the producers want you to know, by true events! — a wife emerges from a coma following a car accident with no recognition of the stranger in front of her who says he’s her husband. So the husband works to win her love all over again. For the record, Rachel McAdams plays the wife, a free spirited artist, and Channing Tatum is her adoring husband, a free-spirited musician. We know they’re free-spirited because he sometimes wears a straw hipster hat, and she lets her hair get messy when she’s working in her studio. The two stars look dewy and glossy and unexceptional, bound together less by chemistry than by the ministrations of a hard-working costume designer.

In an important way, though, The Vow is very special awful — which is, come to think of it, the only reason to talk about the movie at all. Although post-coma Paige (that’s the wife) can’t remember anything about her marriage and doesn’t recognize Leo (that’s the husband), Paige’s memory isn’t entirely gone. She can, in fact, summon up her past up to about the time she was a sheltered, infantilized, preppy young woman from a wealthy, snobbish family, dutifully attending law school (per her daddy’s wishes) and engaged to an equally self-satisfied yuppie (Scott Speedman). The poor thing just can’t remember the years when she shed her square, genteel airs, got out from under her parents’ prejudices, met Leo, and grew a spine. (Sam Neill bullies and coerces as Paige’s father; Jessica Lange flutters uselessly, a painful sight, as Paige’s possessive mother.) It’s a tragedy, really: According to the hapless team who made the movie, Our Paige is a relatively interesting young liberal who knows her own mind before the accident and a rather tedious, girlish conservative who fusses about keeping her hair smooth afterwards.

Were The Vow not the Valentine’s Day sop it is, all heartstrings and teardrops and McAdams and Tatum, I might believe that the filmmakers were up to mischief. Surely they don’t mean to suggest that an embrace of conservative values — and a fondness for headbands — is an aftereffect of brain damage? D

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • Screen Gems
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