The Vow is 'inspired' by true events. In the sense that a woman suffered a traumatic car accident that erased the memory of getting married, it stays close to the true story. Everything else I think is fiction. However, while The Vow is in many respects not good, I can't lie to myself or you and say it's the disaster it is being presented as.
Paige (Rachel McAdams) and Leo (Channing Tatum) share a passionate love, a whimsical love, a cutesy love, a love so pure, so beautiful, so precious, so endearing, that one almost WANTS something to happen to them. In very short order, we get our wish. A car accident leaves Paige in a medically-induced coma, and when she wakes up she has lost all memory of Leo. In fact, the five years they've spent as boyfriend/girlfriend and as man and wife has been completely removed from her memory. As far as she knows, the hunky Leo is a stranger.
Under normal circumstances, after the accident one would think Leo would at least contact her parents (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange) even if she is estranged from them. After all, Paige is their daughter. However, to do so would needless complicate The Vow and make it...well, slightly realistic. As it stands, Bill and Rita Thornton, once they discover their youngest is recovering from her near-fatal accident, are thrilled that their daughter is a blank slate. It's almost Jedi mind trick-like the way they take over their daughter: you DON'T need to be a scupltress, you want to finish law school; you DON'T really want to be a vegetarian, you love filet minon; you DIDN'T really vote for Obama for President (bad enough you voted for him as Senator), you want to be a total WASP; you really AREN'T married to Leo, you are still engaged to Jeremy (Scott Speedsman).
Paige, puzzled by everything and a bit fearful of everything connected with Leo, slowly starts to see Bill and Rita as her real refuge. However, exercising his marital rights, Leo takes her home. This doesn't go well: Paige can't believe she is a sculptress, that she is some sort of hippie, or that she is married to this hunky/sensitive guy. As Leo pines away for Paige, letting his recording business go by the wayside, Paige slowly falls back into her parent's circle. Unfortunately, this means coming close to Jeremy (whom she still considers her real fiance and for whom she still has feelings, conflicted as they may be).
Leo does everything to win her over: he takes her on dates, he takes her to the places they once knew, he even tries to surround her with their hipper-than-hip hipster friends. Nothing doing. Things culminate at her sister's wedding, where Bill urges Leo to divorce (which he finally does). However, he still loves her while she has literally forgotten him. As in any good romantic drama, Paige finally discovers why she broke with her family, decides that law school really isn't for her (again), and finds herself with the real love of her life.
Yes, there are many things wildly wrong with The Vow, starting with the performances. I tire of stating the obvious: Channing Tatum can't act. Channing Tatum couldn't act if a nuclear device were tied to a collection of puppies, but here, I saw something I had never seen from Tatum: him making a sincere and total effort to try. He tried to act, tried harder than I've ever seen him try before, so at least I'm willing to congratulate him for making an effort. The fact that Channing Tatum is still remarkably incapable of expressing emotion confirms that he has no actual acting ability, but he does get an A for Effort.
McAdams does better as the confused Paige, though she had the fortune to basically play two characters: the hippie free-spirit Paige and the WASPy Paige. It's unfortunate that the screenplay by Jason Katims, Abby Kohn, and Mark Silverstein (with story by Stuart Sender) gives our amnesia victim very little to do. She is almost unwilling to even try to reconnect to her past life with Leo, and the speed at which she returns to her priviledged life almost makes one wonder why Leo would fight so hard to keep someone so unwilling to not just recognize him, but even unwilling to give his hunk of a man a chance.
It's also unfortunate that we had so many cliches about how overwhelming Leo & Paige's love was. They are so hip and cute: marrying at an art institute surreptitiously, making love in her studio, constantly proclaiming their love at every turn. Add that the screenplay went out of its way to portray her parents as these WASP demons without souls, to where the screen almost put up a flashing sign for us to jeer every time Bill and Rita appeared.
Whatever dramatic tension The Vow could have given us in what is a very dramatic situation is lost in its mad rush to get these two crazy kids together again.
I digress to say that I wondered why Leo never bothered to contact Bill and Rita and tell them that their daughter is in a coma. It's one thing that Paige is estranged from her parents, but for heaven's sake she is close to dying; don't you think that her parents, whatever their differences, would want to know this rather insignificant thing? It would not have been all that difficult to track the Thorntons down, and it might have eased things once Paige finally woke up. It also would have forced Bill and Rita to accept (if not like) the fact that Paige had married someone they'd never met.
Of course, that couldn't happen because then the conflict within The Vow would be if not non-existent at least less dramatic. The Vow needs to give these two seemingly insurmountable challenges which would make their ultimate reuniting (as if you didn't think THAT wouldn't happen) all the more romantic.
As if to compensate for Tatum's lack of emotion, Lange and Neill decided to overdo it in their roles. Neill is all growls and lack of compassion as Bill, while Lange's Rita has the snobbish element all down. Whether it's important or not that Lange at times looks like Joan Crawford in her Night Gallery-era I leave up to you.
Speedman is directed by Michael Suscy to be indecisive as to how his character should be. Should he be a man who will embrace a second chance at the love of his life? Should he be the selfish jerk who will render a love so pure asunder for his own pleasure?
The screenplay at times almost goes out of its way to remove logic from the situation. When she first comes around, I would have thought it might be a good idea to show Paige all those videos and photos of their magical time together to show her they did have a great love affair. Instead, Leo appears content to just let her wander around their apartment to see if that works (always thought Tatum was a bit dim...). Furthermore, The Vow treats Paige's amnesia as if it were almost a flu: Leo doesn't appear all too fazed to see his own business start falling apart. The more realistic thing is to have someone (perhaps their hipster friends, none of whom we ever really get to know or even at times know by name) stay with her. Just a thought.
The Vow doesn't hang together very well. Fortunately for Suscy, the audience isn't asking for more logic in The Vow. Instead, it wants a rather second-rate love story with the complication of amnesia to have them rediscover love again. Having that in mind (no pun intended), we can forgive The Vow for being exactly what it presents itself as.
It's strange that when I watched the trailer for The Vow, the only thing I could think of was whether it was a remake/update of Random Harvest (which dealt with similar themes of finding love after amnesia). What I find amusing is if that were the case, that would make Channing Tatum Greer Garson.
Still, at the end of the day The Vow did get me on at least a surface level. It was badly acted (well, any film with Channing Tatum will be badly acted: he could be in Hamlet as one of the guards and he wouldn't be able to make it believable). Its story goes through hoops to separate the lovers when we find that the real couple managed to come together and even have children. Maybe I'm mellowing with age, but I didn't hate The Vow. I didn't love it or thought it one of the great love stories, but given that The Vow didn't ask much from me, I can't ask much from it either.
The Vow is a film about a blank Paige starring a blank actor.