Safe Haven (review)

Safe Haven red light Julianne Hough Josh Duhamel

I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): hate Nicholas Sparks’ brand of Hallmark mush with a passion greater than any emotion he’s ever written about

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I like to imagine that Nicholas Sparks realized he couldn’t write yet another prequel story about how the people whose photos come with the picture frames fell in love. So he figured he’d try a thriller! Ooo, isn’t it exciting? A woman on the run from cops at a bus station: she’s a fugitive! A hastily dyed blonde who has flashbacks about a big kitchen knife and blood on the floor… wow, it’s almost noirish. Did she kill her lover in a rage of jealousy? Maybe she murdered the FBI agent who got too close to unraveling her scheme to undermine the U.S. banking system with a rogue compuer virus?

Come the gentlest, tenderest, sweetest little fudge on. This is Nicholas Sparks. His heroines are not criminals. They are fragile damaged sparrows, not fierce hawks. And they require handsome sad sensitive widowers to wend their broken wings and help them fly again.

(Men whose lives are a mess? They get manic pixie dream girls who dress funky retro and play bass in alt-rock bands or draw underground comics. Women whose lives are a mess get rumpled unshaven guys who tinker in the garage.)

I was half afraid it was gonna turn out that Katie (Julianne Hough: Rock of Ages, Footloose) is sorta crazy but not murderous, and has “run away” to her actual hometown, where everyone — including her actual husband, now pretending to be the handsome sad sensitive widower Alex (Josh Duhamel: Movie 43, New Year’s Eve) — is pretending not to know her to help her create a new life so she can get well. Because that would have awful, and psychologically questionable to say the least, but it could have been hilarious.

What Safe Haven actually is is pretty darn hilarious, but only for a moment, until it starts to sink in how weird and creepy it is in a way that Sparks most certainly did not intend. Like everything he writes, it’s supposed to make you weep with its romantic perfection. Instead it’s a good damn reason to stay away from handsome sad sensitive widowers.

This is creepy and weird, too: the charming little coastal North Carolina town Katie washes up in — which may or may not be accessible only by a ferry which may or may not have been capable of carrying the bus she arrives in — is like something out of The Twilight Zone. Or maybe it’s the Village from The Prisoner. First off, there isn’t a single black person here, not one, which makes this a preposterously all-white town in the American South. The crab shack on the beach closes for the Fourth of July, which is so downright unAmerican that it’s like the fatal mistake that gives away a Soviet psy-ops project to re-create small-town USA for nefarious reasons unknown: it’s like not knowing the Yankees play baseball. But the dead giveaway that this is all a put-on — it could be something like Truman Burbank’s Seahaven, maybe — is how everyone in town, down to Alex’s small daughter (Mimi Kirkland), is giving little knowing adoring sidelong glances at Katie and Alex from practically the moment they first meet, which isn’t even a meet-cute or anything!, as if everyone has no doubt Katie and Alex are just perfect for each other.

It’s like they all know they’re characters in a Nicholas Sparks movie. Weird.

Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.]

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