Safe Haven (2013)

September 07, 2014
Safe Haven movie review
Photo Credit: Safe Haven / Relativity Media
Two American Apparel models refuse to accept their once-in-a-lifetime falling in love at first sight before they actually fall in love. The setting will be in North Carolina. There'll be canoeing on some remote swan-filled lake, random dancing at a gas station, and a poetic montage of the perfect life in the south. This is the general tale of every Nicholas Sparks novel. And, it's one of my guilty reading pleasures.

A young woman mysteriously leaves her husband in the middle of the night. Lurking in a small town and trying to remain emotionally distant from strangers and neighbors, Katie Feldman (Julianne Hough) is not really building a new life for herself but trying to remain hidden and unnoticed. Gradually, she strikes up a relationship with a widowed father (Josh Duhamel), and her past of escaping an abusive husband threatens their relationship.

Safe Haven should've been the exception from all other Sparks adaptations. Its material is grounded in suspense and drama than mere steamy romance. But, Katie's backstory is shamefully so Hollywood-ized when the script attempts complex emotions or conflict, it's afraid it'll break our brains and backs-off.

As the protagonist who plots an elaborate escape so she didn't end up dead by her husband, Katie is brutally catered to the "handsome man can save a damsel" trope. We never truly witness the psychological and physical trauma she endured, nor her recovery from it. Everything just seems to happen by a miracle. Katie's escape is a simple bus ride out of town. She falls in love with an emotionally-stable acquaintance. Her husband's pursuit of her desertion is pieced together like a game of Clue. It's all so easy breezy and beautiful.

Drunk, abusive, and religiously-delusional, Kevin is actually a terrifying character. Part Katie's new life, part Kevin's hunt for her, the novel is split between their two storylines. In the movie, he is stripped down to some side scenes, one flashback alluding to his abuse and by osmosis finding her exact location. Saved by David Lyons, his performance is short but provides a menacing impact. Regretfully, for a character we are supposed to find repulsive, I wanted to see more of him.

Safe Haven is more for surface-level entertainment than substance. Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel have good chemistry - even if their on-screen relationship is a few thinly-veiled "Hello, okay, don't bother me" conversations that turn into making out and weekend beach getaways. For as slim pickins as the story is, Hough is endearing, even if her acting chops were are painfully undeveloped. Duhamel doesn't exactly phone in as a widowed father hormonally-hyped up about a stranger in town, but he does his best to make a genuine go at it. (And he makes falling off the roof of a burning building exceptionally funny.)

In fact, there are a lot of qualities I liked about the movie. A cross between actually attempting to be a genuinely decent drama and failing short of a melodramatic Lifetime feature, the storyline stays respectfully close to its fictional source. How the film was shot, and its cast, is primarily how I pictured it from the book. "At least" may be my overall problem with Nicholas Sparks adaptations. "At least" the cast is likable. "At least" it's cinematography is nice. "At least" it sticks pretty close to the books. But at the very least, some chick flicks don't have to be so safe it fails to challenge or entertain its viewers.
Rating: ★☆☆
Have you seen Safe Haven? What are your thoughts?

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