By Jacob Montgomery (Texas)
Nicholas Sparks must be doing something right. Otherwise people wouldn’t read his books, and they wouldn’t be made into films. I suspect that most the people who read the books are women, and the film going audience is women and their significant others that they dragged with them. It just goes to show that quite a few audience members choose not to think critically about what they read or watch, because if they did, all the flaws of the story would be staring right at them.
Safe Haven is the story of a young woman, played by Julianne Hough, who is a fugitive for an unspecified reason. She then makes her way to a small town called Southport, her “safe haven” if you will, and slowly begins to like the townsfolk in it, particularly the Wheatley family, who, shock of all shocks, recently lost the mom to cancer. Along the way she falls in love with the widower, played by Josh Duhamel, and terrible twists and turns that could ruin their relationship and the people she cares about.
And when I said terrible twists I mean terrible as in horribly executed, lazy, sloppy and staggeringly inept. There are two main twists (which I won’t spoil, don’t worry). One of them, I wasn’t even aware was supposed to be a twist. I was actually able to deduce it in the first few minutes or so, and I naturally assumed that it was something that didn’t need to be spelled out to the audience, and I remember thinking, “Good for this movie. Treating your audience with intelligence.” And then when it is finally stated out loud, it’s treated like it’s a big surprise, complete with the sudden jolt in the soundtrack. So either the writer thought the foreshadowing wasn’t subtle enough, and made it much more blatant, or it originally wasn’t supposed to be a twist and for some reason they decided to treat it like a twist at the end, because they didn’t trust the audience to comprehend it. The second twist is absolutely awful, but I can’t talk about it without giving it away.
It’s getting really hard nowadays to write good romances, especially ones that can appeal to both sexes. So to compensate for that, Nicholas Sparks made this story as melodramatic as possible, with a constant gloomy feeling in the air that makes it hard to get sucked into the chemistry and supposed happiness that the two leads have together as a couple. The movie tries hard, so hard, to try to get you to care about the couple, but I never felt that they had a connection. It was so busy trying to create an atmosphere that it forgot about its characters, and as a result the story suffers. In fact, the characters are so bad that they constantly make incredibly stupid decisions.
There’s the obligatory third-act breakup that every single romance film in the last few decades has had, (seriously if anyone in Hollywood ever reads this, please stop doing this, or at least try to subvert it) and the characters get even worse as the plot heads to the climax, with characters acting like perpetual idiots, to keep the conflict going.
It’s like the opposite of Vertigo. Instead of starting off okay and getting better and better as the film progressed, Safe Haven actually has the reverse effect. The film started out being merely mediocre, but it somehow managed to down-spiral and only kept getting worse and worse, as if trying to apologize for doing something right early on.
It’s a shame because there is potential for a good story here. With better writing and directing, this film could’ve been good, even great. But instead of an interesting look at a unique relationship, we instead got a barrage of romance novel clichés that Nicholas Sparks has mastered hiding from the average reader. There’s nothing new here. There’s nothing interesting here. And there’s nothing enjoyable here. It’s just sap and melodrama, mixed with badly written characters, twists that hinder the story, and dull moments.
Or maybe I didn’t like it just because I’m a guy.