The good news, from a Christian perspective, is that The Vow is a romance focusing on a couple that is actually married. After enduring a recent slate of movies celebrating the hook-up culture (No Strings Attached, Friends With Benefits, Love and Other Drugs), it's nice to have a romantic film that shares the notion that it is natural for people who love each other to want to make a formal and binding commitment.

But despite its intriguing premise—an accident leaves the wife with severe memory loss, and her husband remains faithful to his vows—the film's plotting and conflicts are so routine that one gets very little examination of that premise. What could have been a fascinating character study about the relationship of the self/soul (the core of one's being) to one's past, one's body, or one's words instead plays out as a series of sitcom-style misunderstandings and serial conflicts that do little other than pass the time until the characters are ready to make meaningful decisions rather than postponing them until their situation changes.

Channing Tatum as Leo

Channing Tatum as Leo

Leo (Channing Tatum) and Paige (Rachel McAdams) are a loving couple whose special bond is established quickly through voice-over narration and a quirky but sincere wedding scene where they exchange quixotic vows. She promises to "abide" in his heart. He promises to love her "fiercely." Leo's small business running a music recording studio is growing, and Paige is getting important commissions as an up-and-coming sculptor. When Paige is injured in a car accident, however, she loses her memory, including any recall of her marriage or even of Leo's existence. When Paige's parents (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange) descend upon the hospital, offering to pay bills and take care of their previously estranged daughter, Leo must balance what he thinks is best for Paige based on his past knowledge of her with what Paige is now saying she wants for herself.

Rachel McAdams as Paige

Rachel McAdams as Paige

The biggest script misfire is probably focusing on Leo instead of Paige. It is Paige's situation which is unique and raises interesting questions. In a scene where Paige watches herself making wedding vows on videotape, we get a glimpse of a genuinely engaging dilemma—can a person hold herself to a vow she doesn't even remember making to a person she no longer recalls falling in love with? Leo's problems are more mechanical and familiar—how does one make a stranger fall in love? It doesn't help, either, that through most of the film Leo seems to ignore Paige's doctor, who stresses that Paige is dealing with a brain injury and not (necessarily) a psychological or emotional blackout. A scene where Leo walks around the apartment nude the morning after Paige returns from the hospital is explained by his falling into old habits when appearances return to normal, but would anyone in this situation really be that insensitive? In Paige's studio, Leo cranks up the music she used to play loud, gets frustrated when she asks him to turn it off, and expresses frustration that his efforts are not appreciated. The doctors warned him that mood swings would be a likely effect of Paige's brain injury, but nowhere does Leo (or the film) seem to acknowledge that Paige is an injured person who needs to heal rather than a healthy person who has lost her memory.

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Their wedding day

Their wedding day

Even with those complaints, Tatum and McAdams are such charming and personable performers that one can't help but want to see their characters together. Surprisingly, though, the film has little confidence that we will want them to choose the marriage over other relationships with good, well-meaning people who want to help them, so everyone other than Leo has to be revealed to have not just lesser but sinister intentions. Paige's father throws his money around and offers Leo a devil's bargain to abandon his daughter. Paige's former boyfriend (Scott Speedman) appears to be more interested in winning a love triangle battle than with what's genuinely best for the person he says he loves but only really desires. Leo's friends, conversely, are full of support and encouragement. It's not possible for anyone watching the film to not know that Paige is better off with Leo—so much so that it is hard not to simply be frustrated with Paige, amnesia and all, for failing to pick up on any obvious cues or clues that something is amiss.

It's hard not to root for this couple

It's hard not to root for this couple

The absence of any meaningful conflict also undercuts the film's ostensible reason for being. For a film called The Vow, there is surprisingly little discussion or examination of what a vow is, why it is important, or how Paige's situation is any different from an unmarried person's in your average romantic comedy who is blind to which guy is best suited for her. There is one early scene in which Leo plays a tape of Paige declaring her love and pleads with her to trust the decision she once made, but by the end even he is professing that "if it's meant to be, it will happen" and that if she doesn't love him any longer it makes no sense to keep pursuing her. Ultimately the vision of love and marriage that is being presented here is a fairly routine, secular one, that it is love that binds us to a vow and not the other way around.

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Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. Does Leo keep his vow? Does Paige? Discuss.
  2. Neither Leo nor Paige reference God when making their marriage vows. Is a Christian vow any more binding than one made by a non-Christian, or do all vows implicitly invoke God whether he is mentioned or not?
  3. One character says that forgiving another person means focusing on what he or she did right instead of focusing on one thing a person did wrong. Is this an adequate definition of forgiveness? Why or why not?
  4. Would you have done anything differently in Leo's place? Is it ever impossible to keep a vow?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

The Vow is rated PG-13 for an accident scene, sexual content, brief nudity, and language. The car crash in which Paige is injured is dramatic and traumatic. Paige and Leo are depicted (post-marriage) having intercourse, and in another scene they are shown kissing while partially undressed. Paige is shown in her bra and panties in a scene where the couple runs into the lake, and (in a separate scene) Leo is shown nude from behind. It is implied that the couple is preparing to have sex in the car (on a public street) before they are interrupted by the accident.

The Vow
Our Rating
2 Stars - Fair
Average Rating
(12 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG-13 (for an accident scene, sexual content, partial nudity and some language)
Directed By
Michael Sucsy
Run Time
1 hour 44 minutes
Rachel McAdams, Channing Tatum, Sam Neill
Theatre Release
February 10, 2012 by Screen Gems
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