New Mexico residents Kim Carpenter and his wife, Krickitt, had been married just a few months when they were involved in a terrible car accident. Krickitt suffered massive brain injuries, and when she finally awoke from a coma, she had lost 18 months of her most recent memory so that she remembered nothing about meeting and marrying Kim. The book they published in 2000 under the title of “The Vow” tells their amazing story and is the inspiration for this film of the same name.
In the film version, Paige and Leo, a happily married young couple, have just come out of the theater after watching a movie only to discover that a new blanket of snow covers the sidewalks and roads. After Paige observes how pretty it is, they get into their car and head home. But they never make it because a horrible accident ensues.
Both Paige and Leo survive, but Leo’s injuries are much less severe than is the brain trauma Paige sustains. To keep her body functioning properly while it recovers from the shock of the accident, the doctors place Paige in an induced coma, and they assure Leo that when they bring her out of it, things probably will be all right. But they aren’t.
After Paige first wakes up, she seems to be perfectly alert, and Leo is both elated and relieved to see her, but when Paige thinks Leo is her doctor, he knows something is dreadfully wrong. Paige has absolutely no recollection of who Leo is. In fact, she remembers nothing at all about her relationship with him. Five years before she began her career as an artist and met Leo, Paige was enrolled in law school, and this is the point to which her memory has regressed.
As if things are not bad enough for Leo, it isn’t long until Paige’s parents (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange) show up, and you can cut the tension in the room with a knife. Obviously there has been some kind of a rift between Paige and her folks, but we don’t know what it is. What follows is a battle of wills between the parents and Leo to determine with whom Paige will go home. Leo finally prevails, but things turn out to be much more difficult than he imagined they would be.
Despite Leo’s patience and understanding, Paige’s memory doesn’t show any signs of improving, and as her sister’s wedding approaches, Paige decides to move back in with her parents. As the film progresses, we learn what caused her estrangement from her family, and the odds against Leo continue to pile up.
Although “The Vow” may not fall into the category of great love stories occupied such classics as “Casablanca,” “Love Story,” “The Way We Were,” and “An Affair to Remember,” it is a very entertaining film with characters that you come to care about, and this is a testament to the fine performances turned in by McAdams and Tatum.
Because the accident occurs so early in the film, we learn about their relationship before the accident through a series of flashbacks showing us their meeting, their brief courtship, and their ultimate marriage. McAdams and Tatum have an excellent chemistry in these scenes, and they are so effective in conveying their characters’ love and happiness that we really feel bad for them when the tragedy strikes.
Leo’s devotion to Paige is absolutely fierce, and he is determined that she will recover so that they can resume the kind of life they enjoyed before the accident. But as the days go by and Paige shows no signs of regaining her memory, Leo doesn’t know what to try next. In the film’s production notes, Tatum reflected about the challenge of portraying Leo and how identified with the character.
“I hope I would be as brave as Leo is; it’s heartbreaking for him, but he has the faith to let Paige find her own way. And this role is great because Leo is so truthful about his love; he doesn’t hold it back, and I can relate to that. I love love! It’s harder to play than running around with guns and being physical, but it’s very satisfying. If my wife (actress Jenna Dewan) lost her memory of me, I wouldn’t just be like ‘Okay, all right, well, see you later, good luck.’ No. I’d be fighting tooth and nail and plug away at this until it comes back. No matter what.”
Tatum also added an insightful observation about the relationship between Paige and Leo.
“Falling in love is the easy part! Getting on with your life together and making sure you stay in touch and connected because life can get in the way sometimes, that’s the tough part. I think that a huge part of Leo and Paige’s journey is based on the fact that not only do they make each other intensely happy and support each other, but that they pushed each other to grow, and when you do that, it really does take you to the next level in a relationship and in life.”
Tatum is extremely effective in making us feel Leo’s frustration as he fights desperately to help Paige remember who he is and save his marriage.
And McAdams is outstanding as Paige, who wants desperately to recall her former life but simply can’t do so. McAdams actually portrays two different characters in the Paige before the accident and the one afterward. The former was happy and carefree, but the latter is confused, frightened, and frustrated. McAdams consistently and convincingly runs through the entire gamut of human emotions. In the production notes, McAdams explained how she was immediately drawn to the project and what she saw in the character of Paige.
“I loved the way the script unfolded. When we first meet Paige, she is a much more actualized version of herself than we see later on in the film, which is kind of a backwards way to go but exactly what I found so interesting.” She explains, “Paige has embraced the life she’s made with Leo. They’re clearly free and comfortable and supportive of each other; she appreciates his music and he encourages her sculpting. But then we find out that she’s cut off from her family and denying a big part of her life.”
Both Neill and two-time Oscar winner Lange are outstanding as Paige’s parents, who harbor a nasty secret about their relationship with her. Neither of them is a candidate for the parent of the year award, and they play their respective parts to the hilt.
During this time of the year, we don’t get a lot of love stories in the theater, and “The Vow” (Give it a final score of 7.) fills that void nicely.