More than any other attribute, memory is what defines our identity and our connections to each other. When a young woman’s traumatic brain injury erases her memory not just of having married her husband but even of having met him, both of them face daunting challenges about who they are and what they can be to each other.
The first time was so easy. Leo (Channing Tatum) sees Paige (Rachel McAdams), a free-spirited art student, and they are immediately drawn to each other. It was just two weeks later, we will learn, when she first said, almost to herself, that she loved him. They had a quirky-cute wedding at the Chicago Art Institute (near the Seurat painting Ferris Bueller visited on his day off) with their quirky-cute friends and their vows written on the menus of their favorite little coffee shop (Cafe Mnemonic, a bit of memory foreshadowing). They love, love, love each other until their car is hit by a snow plow and she goes through the windshield. When she wakes up from a chemically-induced coma, she thinks Leo is a doctor. She has no memory of him or of the past five years. She thinks she is still in law school and engaged to Jeremy (Scott Speedman). She can’t figure out why her hair is so unstyled or how she got a tattoo. Leo has to try to make her fall in love with him all over again, and this time it will take much longer.
It is inspired by the true story of Kim and Krickett Carpenter, who wrote a book about about their experience but the marketing is intended to tie it to the stars’ previous appearances in Nicholas Sparks movies. It does have Sparks-ian themes of love and loss and it has a gooey layer of Hollywood candy topping, but it is a bit sharper and less sudsy than Sparks movies like “The Notebook” and “Dear John.” Leo and Paige and their friends all so quirky-cute they might be Shields and Yarnell performing in “Godspell.” The further it departs from the real story, jettisoning the importance of the couple’s faith and some of messiness of her recovery and throwing in a tired twist with Paige’s wealthy, uptight, controlling family, the further it gets from what does work in the movie, the palpable tenderness and devotion of Leo and the wrenching challenge of trying to reconnect with Paige as her uncertainty about who she is makes her retreat. The great philosophy professor Stanley Cavell has written about the enduring appeal of the “comedies of remarriage,” movies that are not about falling in love but about re-falling. There is something very captivating about the idea of someone who knows us and is willing to fall in love with us anyway.
Parents should know that this movie includes brief language (s-word), sexual references, adultery and male rear nudity, one punch, alcohol, and a car accident with injuries.
Family discussion: Why was Paige afraid to remember her life with Leo? What does “I wanted to earn it” mean? What does the name of the place Leo and Paige went to eat mean?
If you like this, try: “The Notebook” and “Dear John” and this poignant and inspiring Washington Post article about a similar real-life “in sickness and in health” love story. And read the Carpenters’ book, The Vow: The True Events that Inspired the Movie.