Safe Haven Follows A Safe Formula

So I have nothing against Nicholas Sparks. In fact, I kind of envy him. What’s not to love about making millions of dollars writing the same story over and over again?

Not to say that I’m a Nicholas Sparks hater. I’ve seen A Walk To Remember at least three times (plus read the abridged version), watched The Notebook once but this scene at least ten times (I kid you not). The clip doesn’t start from the right point but there’s something about Ryan Gosling yelling “Are we back there?” that gets me every time. And heck, I even saw Nights in Rodanthe although I’m not sure I finished it.

So no, I’m not a hater. And as someone who watches romantic movies in different languages, I enjoy the simple predictability of the genre. We know the guy will most likely be instantly attracted to the girl, the couple will resist their attraction at some point, there will be conflict and if it’s not a sucky story, they will end up happily together.  So I didn’t go into this movie thinking that we were going to break new ground here.

All I knew about the movie was what was in the trailer – hot Josh Duhamel, a blonde chick I didn’t know, some canoeing, a small town and lots of kissing. So did it live up to my low expectations?

Let’s start with the basics. Safe Haven is a romantic drama about a woman, Katie (Julianne Hough), who escapes a bad relationship, moves to a small town, meets nice people and falls in love with local widower, Alex (Josh Duhamel). I think one way this movie differs from others with this storyline is that it doesn’t have the usual quirky, small-town characters. I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing. In a way, I welcomed not having the usual neurotic or odd characters but on the other hand, the movie lacks that color and uniqueness that often elevates such a simple story. So I’m not sure if doing without them wasn’t just plain laziness. Having said that, we did get the precocious kid in the daughter, Lexie.

As for the plot, if you’ve seen Sleeping With The Enemy, you’ve seen this one. Although I don’t remember if the husband in that movie was as stereotypically awful as Kevin (David Lyons). I mean, they couldn’t even give this guy a single redeeming quality. We are talking about a drunk, murderous, wife-battering evil cop with no interest in justice who misuses his power for his own personal gain. If I ever married a man who turned out to be as bad as this guy, after escaping from him, I would join a convent.

So we have one-dimensional, cookie-cutter characters in a very predictable plot. And I mean predictable. Even though they tried to create suspense, there was none as I could predict every beat and every turn, right down to the supposedly surprising final twist. Yes, I saw that ish coming a mile away.  And given the high stakes and suspense they tried to build, I felt that everything was resolved way too easily. Almost like a big build up with no pay off. I think a movie clocking two hours could have used more development and a lot more conflict. It was almost like they wrote an outline with the plot points and didn’t bother to come up with anything else. I don’t know if the fault lies in the novel or in its script adaptation.

What about the performances? About ten minutes in, I realized that Julianne Hough wasn’t some “blonde chick I didn’t know.” I actually recognize her from Footloose and I think I quite like her. Her chemistry with Josh was okay but I think they could have added a bit more passion and still maintained their PG-13 rating. The kid actors were fine even though Mimi Kirkland stood out more. But in all fairness, she was given the better material.

The movie was directed by Lasse Hallström (Chocolat) and let’s just say that I wonder if his strength lies in the script.

There’s a nice treat here for The Notebook fans. Remember this scene?

There’s a fun homage to it in this movie. The dude takes her canoeing and someone warns him that it’s going to rain. So as a The Notebook fan, you start anticipating, wondering if they are going to recreate it. Their spin on it is cute but doesn’t match the original. It certainly won’t be remembered for years to come. Nonetheless, it’s a nice touch for the fans.

So all in all, what’s the verdict? If you’re a fan of Nicholas Sparks who isn’t tired of the tried and tested formula and are looking for something to kill time, go ahead and watch it. I mean, I heard the girl sitting next to me cry. If you’re looking to be swept up in a romance, I honestly don’t think this is the movie for you. I liked that they didn’t fall in love after two conversations, but it still wasn’t a romance for the ages. There are no quotables or memorable scenes. It’s quite ordinary.

If you’re looking for character depth, character development, something original or even a fresh take on the usual cliches, look elsewhere. I don’t know how Nicholas Sparks works but for this movie, all that was done was put stereotypical characters in a cliche setting, make them do everything one would expect then add a final twist to give it some originality. Except I’ve seen that final twist in quite a few Hallmark movies.

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