Coming from a perspective that is generally negative toward “chick flicks,” I have to say the little part of my black heart that drips “sap” rather enjoyed The Vow. Not because the performances are spectacular (they aren’t), or the plot original (it’s not), but because of the way it explores memory and the past.
Within the first 30 seconds of the film, Paige (Rachel McAdams) and Leo (Channing Tatum) are portrayed as a perfect giggly picture of marital bliss. Two people so perfect, and so hot, for each other that what comes next is supposed to strike the audience as a huge blow to the sanctity of cheesy courtships everywhere. One moment of impact, and Paige mentally checks out to a time in her life before the love of her life.
The rest of the movie deals with the fallout of this castrophic event, as Paige tries desperately to remember the man she once fell in love with and married. Leo’s patience is tested as he must contend with Paige’s family, now back in the picture after a five year absence, as well as Paige’s former fiancee. Because she can’t remember a time without them, Paige clings to the people from her past out of frustration and fear. It should be noted here that while Leo and Paige led a very bohemian existence together (she, a vegetarian artist/coffee shop employee, he, the owner of a recording studio, and their house, a vintage wet dream), Paige is from a very monied family intent on seeing her become a lawyer. The sharp contrast between her different lives serves to drive a deeper wedge in the film’s conflict. There’s a particularly on-the-nose dinner scene after the accident where an uncomfortable Leo struggles to justify his chosen profession to Paige’s WASPy family, who have already decided to dislike him for subjecting their daughter to his chosen “lifestyle.” The film’s resolution may seem like it comes easily enough, but the audience is only left at the beginning of a long road to the characters’ rediscovery of themselves and their relationship with each other.
Despite The Vow‘s reliance on common rom-com tropes, the film made me ponder what would happen if I got to “relive” a certain period of my life. Even given a different set of environmental circumstances, would I still end up where I was before? No matter how many times the human brain is reset, are we still predestined to be a certain way? Desire to be with the same people? Obviously, numerous cases in medical history tell us this is not necessarily true, as brain trauma can leave a person a shell of their former selves. A digression I had no idea I would make while watching a Rachel McAdams film I assure you, but there it is.
The Vow opens today in Philly-area theaters.