Safe Haven is the new mushy romance from Nicholas Sparks, the writer responsible for seven other completely identical films (The Notebook, Dear John, The Last Song etc) easily recognisable by their completely identical posters, each depicting a sexy, white, heterosexual couple passionately embracing in front of a superimposed, idyllic setting. These sexy white heteros are everywhere! And with the millions that these films make, there can only be more to come!! It seems there will be no safe haven from Safe Haven. At least, not anytime soon…
As is devastatingly apparent to anyone familiar with Best For Film website, we don’t have a fondness for Nicholas Sparks here. As you can imagine, the prospect of having to watch his newest contribution to cinema was met with ripples of disdain here in the office. So, because I am an enthusiastic, naive intern, I thought I’d take one for the team. But, man, do they owe me.
Click the picture below to see the Safe Haven trailer:
For a man who insists he writes ‘unpredictable love stories’, Nicholas Sparks sure has a formula, one which is nauseatingly transparent:
Firstly, the two sexy white heteros meet and fall in love. In Safe Haven it’s Katie (played by Julianne Hough – most widely known for being a two time champion of ABCs Dancing with the Stars and, weirdly, not for her acting talent – strange as she’s previously starred in such critical successes as the remake of Footloose, Burlesque and Rock of Ages…) and hunky, sensitive Alex (played by ex-model Josh Duhamel). This meeting and falling in love consists of a sequence of longing, shy glances and moments that we are supposed to find cute and coy, but that we ACTUALLY find wooden and awkward.
Secondly, there is an obstacle which ensures their love is not as clean sailing as the inevitable scene when the said couple take a romantic boat ride on a beautiful summer lake. In Safe Haven Katie is actually Erin from Boston, who is wanted for murder and being pursued by a crazy alcoholic cop. Her secret past is revealed through clumsy flashbacks of hair cutting and knife wielding which tend to result in Katie/Erin waking up with a generic woke-up-and-it-was-all-a-dream jolt. When the film isn’t flashbacking the couple are continuing to find out amazing things about one another, like that they’re both completely boring, personality-free human beings who look good in swimwear. Oh, and that they’re both really deep, a point hammered home by long, vacant stares out to sea.
Thirdly, they overcome the obstacles, get over their respective ‘dark’ pasts and fall in love anyway! In Safe Haven this is helped by a few ‘twists’ along the way… including a Sixth Sense moment that Bruce Willis would be sad to be associated with in this sentence. Although I’ll admit that, shamefully, there was a moment around this point where I cried actual tears. Right at the end, mind, when we’re SUPPOSED to cry because we’re all being EMOTIONALLY MANIPULATED AND USED! She was reading a letter addressed to her from his dead wife, for god’s sake! I’m no monster. But I feel like one after that.
The pacing is painfully slow and the script is banal at its best. The two leads actually manage to be out-acted by Alex’s daughter Lexie (played by eight year old Mimi Kirkland) even though she basically just personifies the annoying Hollywood version of how children should be (you know the one: cute, savvy, ever so wise).
Sparks has even managed to infect the work of director Lasse Hallström, who, except for Dear John, his other collaboration with Sparks, has made some great films. He was been nominated for an academy award for The Cider House Rules and even gave Leonardo Dicaprio a chance to attract some inevitable Oscar attention for playing a disabled character in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape – a subtle and genuinely tender film, one that allows you to be drawn in and ACTUALLY CARE because it somehow reflects and comments on real life rather than presumes it’s audience are mindless idiots.
I tried really hard to work out the message of Safe Haven. At the end, in an incident involving a letter from beyond the grave Katie/Erin is given the ultimate advice from above: “take lots of photos.” Genuinely, that’s the ultimate advice from above: “take lots of photos!” So the message is as superficial and pointless as the film itself then. You’ve done it again Nicholas! You’ve done it again, and again, and again…