Thursday, January 17, 2013

It Must Be Valentine’s Day Already, Because There’s Yet Another Film Based Upon A Nicholas Sparks Book On Screen: Safe Haven

The Good: Sense of tension and consequence to the “big secret.”
The Bad: Stiff acting, Overbearing soundtrack, Telegraphed characters, Formulaic plot
The Basics: The latest adaptation to a Nicholas Sparks novel is a disappointing romantic drama called Safe Haven that is not enough to shelter the viewer from Sparks’ successful, but droll, formula.

I am convinced that much of the misery of women in the world today could be alleviated by the gender not setting itself up for utter disappointment so regularly. Few groups so consistently vote against their own self interest as women (guess what?! Socialized medical care and free school lunches are good for single mothers!) and on the sociological/emotional level the expectations are worse. This is embodied, in part, each year around Valentine’s Day with the release of a cinematic rendition of one of Nicholas Sparks’s romantic drama novels. Right in time to go on a first date or renew vows (etc.), the studios trot out a film that will create a totally unrealistic idea of what the male animal is and what the world can be when just one loves a woman enough. (I am not at all endorsing this view or suggesting men are at all better, though given that they seem to control both sides of the conversation – casting in Safe Haven is proof positive of that! – they certainly are in a vastly better position to get their expectations in relationships met.)

This year, the Nicholas Sparks novel-based tripe is Safe Haven. Having just returned from a screening of Safe Haven, this year women who buy into the mythos of the romance novel will once again be throwing down their dollars to fill the pockets of a man (two, actually, as director Lasse Halstrom fits the bill quite readily for being a man!) who continues to raise the expectations of what real-world romance might be, while still doing everything he can to break the hearts of his audience by throwing in an appropriately grim tragedy (or two). While Safe Haven might initially seem to upset the standard formula of the Nicholas Sparks story, it contains all of the important elements: a heterosexual relationship initially reluctantly entered into with an element of chance (or in this case, past) that causes an emotional conflict and sets up the potential for the devastation of the relationship, though the two seem emotionally destined for one another regardless. There’s the usual sidekick and, as seems to fit the mold with all his works where the characters are older, kids and everything is exceedingly white. It is, after all, North Carolina (the well-to-do beach-adjacent part).

In this go-around, Katie Feldman flees to Southport, North Carolina, a small town that seems as good enough as any for her to disappear into. While she makes a passing effort to avoid people, her new neighbor Jo insists on befriending her and Katie finds herself attracted to the widower, Alex Wheatley. Soon, Katie is visiting Alex and his shop and befriending his children and forgetting about the reason she fled the big city in the first place. But, as Katie and Alex’s romance grows, Katie’s stability is threatened when her past comes back to haunt her.

I am a big fan of films that explore consequences and, to be fair, Safe Haven does that. While some might say that Safe Haven is a cheap, sappy retread of Sleeping With The Enemy, it is refreshing to see in a Nicholas Sparks movie that: 1. The first love experience is not always the great love story, 2. Running away is seldom a viable option to escape one’s problems. Katie’s supposed big secret hardly is one and she is, in many ways, the typical Sparksian damsel in distress who may be saved (or enjoy the time she has left) by the great love in her life who happens to be the next eligible man she sees at the place she ends up.

Sparks may have a winning formula for the book, which I have admittedly never read, but the screen adaptation by Leslie Bohem, Dana Stevens and Hallstrom is far less inspiring to watch. Defying none of the conventions of Sparks’s formula or the Hollywood ideal (Cobie Smulders, Julianne Hough, and Josh Duhamel are definition of “Hollywood beautiful” and it is clear that Noah Lomax and Mimi Kirkland were cast entirely for their “cute factor”), Safe Haven is only surprising to those who have not seen either a “run from the abusive spouse” story or previous Nicholas Sparks movie.

As for the acting, for two exceedingly good-looking people, Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough have no real on-screen chemistry. Duhamel seems to play well off his child co-stars, but is reserved and lacks zest opposite Hough. Cobie Smulders steals virtually every scene she is in as the spunky best friend.

Her performance, though, is not enough to redeem Safe Haven or make it worth watching. Besides, chances are, you’ve seen it all before already.

For other films with Josh Duhamel, please check out my reviews of:
Transformers: Dark Of The Moon
When In Rome
Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen


For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the films I have reviewed!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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