Directed by Lasse Hallstrom
Written by Leslie Boehm & Dana Stevens
The Nicholas Sparks phenomenon has been under way for the better part of a decade now, and I must admit that I embrace it wholeheartedly compared to the Twilight Saga which has taken over the female romance obsession in the last few years. I can at least say that a few of Nicholas Sparks’ novels have made decent films, with The Notebook at the peak of that mountain. Then again, not every Sparks adaptation can feature Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams. Lasse Hallstrom, too, has made some good films, including The Cider House Rules, and Chocolat. So while the usual sappy romantic drag may have been expected, I had a secret hope in the back of my mind that Safe Haven would surprise me with the romantic flare and cinematic touch that exists in the Nicholas Sparks past.
Katie (Julianne Hough) is a woman on the run from a mysterious past. She hops the first bus out of Boston as the cops are in hot pursuit (for reasons unknown), finally finding a sleepy little beach town in North Carolina to settle in and lay low from the darkness chasing her. She finds a job as a waitress at the local seafood joint, retreats to her own place deep in the woods with only her lonely neighbor (Cobie Smulders) to bother her. But she soon starts hanging around Alex (Josh Duhamel), a widower with a couple of adorable kids. The two strike up a romance, but the emotional baggage carried by both threatens to end a good thing, especially when Katie’s Boston past begins to catch up with her.
Right off the bat, Safe Haven is at a distinct disadvantage from prior Sparks adaptations; it features Julianne Hough in the lead role. The dancer turned actress just does not have enough chops to carry the emotional weight required of her character or of this film. And what a shame because Josh Duhamel is very charming opposite her. They develop a very strange sort of chemistry that is adorable and cute all the while being somewhat unnatural and unbelievable because of Hough’s awkward screen presence and delivery. The core of the story exists thanks to Sparks’ romantic pen, but there exists too much fluff.
The light romance of the film is placed in stark contrast with scenes of Katie’s past and of her Boston pursuer. The dichotomy between the two moods of the film is quite jarring, as each trip into the darkness feels like a trip out of the theater and onto the couch for a mediocre network television crime drama. This inconsistency is mirrored in the film’s cinematography, which goes from beautiful coastal romantic shot to crummy, poorly lit investigative shot that is inevitably on a darkened street where is seems to have always just rained or something. The common theme in this film seems to be a frustrating touch of something good that ends up being poisoned by something quite poor.
All of the elements seem to be there to make a good movie, I truly believe it, I saw it. Cobie Smulders character is a good addition, but sadly she is never given her due time on screen. Same can be said with the scruffy uncle played by Red West. What a shame that these character are there with too little to offer the film. In the hand of a director with a truer vision than what it appears Hallstrom had going into this film may have produced a film I could embrace and herald as one of the great surprises of the young 2013. Alas, the elements are jumbled together to make a mess; like having the right ingredients to make delicious chocolate chip cookies but just not using the right amount of any of it. There is certainly an audience for this film, and they will see it, and probably enjoy it. I find this to be great. Go out there and enjoy it. I just so happen to not be included in said audience for Safe Haven.