Sweet nothings in ‘The Vow’: Even amnesia can’t dim Tatum and McAdams
‘The Vow’’ is the rare chick flick that’s about brain trauma in addition to being a cause of it. It’s what you might get if the eminent neurologist-author Oliver Sacks tried his hand at a True Romance comic, and, as such, it’s quite watchable date-night cheese - the kind of movie you can simultaneously snort at and enjoy.
And it has Channing Tatum, who has always seemed like one of those human-shaped wooden building blocks that somehow became a real boy. He co-stars with Rachel McAdams, attended by her dimples, and the two play Leo and Paige: Two pretty people in love. That’s always been one of the fundamental attractions of the movies - that and the melodramatic curveballs we await with sadistic anticipation.
Here, that curveball is amnesia. Oh my, yes. The blissfully married couple are rear-ended by a truck one snowy Chicago evening, and when Paige awakes from her coma, she has no idea that Leo is her true soul mate. He’s just some guy who looks like a building block.
Director Michael Sucsy and a small army of writers have a decent amount of fun with this set-up. For one thing, Paige can’t remember anything past her immediate post-college years, before she became a hip downtown sculptress. When she was, to put it kindly, a ding-a-ling. So she highlights her hair, dresses in Talbots remainders, and starts ordering blueberry mojitos. Run, Leo, run!
But Leo’s a stand-up sort, and for an actor who appears to have two and a half facial expressions, Tatum wrings our sympathies with ease. I’m sure he knows his lines are italicized porridge (“How do you look at the girl you love and tell yourself it’s time to walk away?’’), but he delivers them as if they had just occurred to him, and he neither sucks up to the genre nor looks down on it. It’s an honest performance and an effective one.
McAdams gets the showy stuff, playing with the shopping mall metaphysics of the plot. What would you do if your last five years were erased? Who would you be? As far as Paige knows, she’s still in love with a slick lawyer (Scott Speedman, acting with his hair gel). She’s still in law school; she’s still a daddy’s girl, daddy being a frosty suburban attorney played by Sam Neill. Paige’s mother, by the way, is played by Jessica Lange, and if you think that’s a career downgrade, wait for the short monologue where she wipes the floor with every other actor in the film. (Memo to the people near me who were audibly shocked by Lange’s appearance: It’s called aging, and it happens to a lot of people outside of Hollywood. In this case, very gracefully.)
Many of the expected clichés are avoided: No second bonk to reset Paige’s hard drive, no climactic slow-motion swoons. But the filmmakers aren’t sure what to put in their place, and the story drifts sweetly to a halt. By the end, “The Vow’’ has created its own amnesiac force-field. You may come out of the theater with a vague but genuine sense of pleasure and an hour later remember nothing about the movie at all.
Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.