The Vow 2012 ★★★½

I had immediately dismissed THE VOW from the moment I first saw the trailer. It seemed insipid to me and disturbingly manipulative. The charming and beautiful, Rachel McAdams, who incidentally starred in the mecca of romantic weepers such as this one, THE NOTEBOOK, gets into a car accident with her handsome husband (Channing Tatum) and forgets she ever knew the man, let alone loved him. It reeked of the dreaded, “Based on the beloved Nichols Sparks novel” to fall below the title, which I usually take to mean I should stay away. So what happened to change my mind and finally see THE VOW? I developed a mad crush on Channing Tatum; that’s what happened. (Thanks a lot, Steven Soderbergh!) Well, now that I’ve seen it, I’m both pleased and surprised to say that THE VOW is not only not based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, but that is was actually pretty compelling too.

Now, I didn’t realize this before, not that it would have done anything more to get me to see this in theatres, but THE VOW is based on a true story. Somewhere out there, there are two people who actually went through this. I doubt their lives were as well lit but this grounding in reality does a lot to anchor THE VOW, saving it from romantic improbability. I’m not sure whether the real Leo & Paige were quite as pretty as these two either but if they went through half of the turmoil this pair went through, their story will go down as one of the greats. Sure on film, it plays out as dramatic and overly romanticized but a good deal of credit is due Tatum and McAdams for bringing the characters’ most vulnerable fears to the surface. They each bravely give into this all consuming love and all devastating circumstance and their commitment sells the movie.

Michael Sucsy, a director who previously drew impressive performances from Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange in GREY GARDENS, seems to have a knack for making unique situations understandable and almost relatable. He can draw great sympathy from the viewer without having to lay it on too thick. It’s just thick enough, if you will. Somehow, despite all the gooeyness, I was able to see right through to the substance at the center of the film and feel their pain. What you’re left with in THE VOW is a man whose great love is always just outside his reach and a woman who knows she’s supposed to feel something monumental but can’t. I found myself not only rooting for them to find each other again but rather just for the kind of love these two felt for each other, the kind of love that admittedly seems to only exist in the movies, to live on as well. If it did, then maybe it can also survive off screen as well.

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