Safe Haven (review)

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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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Susan Wenger
Susan Wenger
Thu, Feb 28, 2013 9:56pm

There ought to be a separate link for extended reviews that include major spoilers, for the benefit of people who have already seen the movie and people who already know they’ll never see the movie. I’d love your take on the BIG REVEAL at the end (which I read on another review site). I bet it would be hilarious.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Susan Wenger
Fri, Mar 01, 2013 12:59am

That’s something I’ll keep in mind as I work on upgrading the site.

In the meantime:

**** SPOILER ****

Bwahahahahahahaha. *deep breath* Bwahahahahahahaha.

Oh my god.

The “big twist,” for those who haven’t seen the movie and won’t: The only female friend Katie makes in her new town is a reclusive woman who keeps urging the relucant and wannabe loner Katie to accept Alex’s gentle handsome-sad-sensitive-widower advances. At the end, we learn that the friend is actually the ghost of Alex’s dead wife. Which means the ghost wife had targeted Katie from the moment she arrived in town, before she’d said more than a few perfunctory words to Alex in the course of a quick business transaction (he runs a local shop), and pushed her at him. It also means that the ghost wife, who can talk to living people, is NOT talking to her grieving son, who is (unlike the daughter mentioned in the review) old enough to remember and miss his mother terribly.

Like I said, it’s supposed to romantic, but it’s just icky.

Susan Wenger
Susan Wenger
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Fri, Mar 01, 2013 5:51pm

Oh my god, it’s even worse than the other reviewer made it sound! Bwah!

I’d be throwing things at the screen if I’d actually seen the movie. From what I hear, there’s no foreshadowing about Friendly Neighbor Lady’s big secret, nothing that makes her ghostly status make more sense than her simply being a friendly neighbor lady friend. She might as well be a benevolent alien from another dimension, or Kate’s guardian angel, or … anything.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Susan Wenger
Sat, Mar 02, 2013 6:04pm

There’s nothing at all to foreshadow this ridiculous turn of events.

reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Fri, Mar 22, 2013 4:09am

There is actually one hint: she appears in Katie’s dream to warn her that her abusive husband is in town.

David J Conner
reply to  Susan Wenger
Sun, Mar 10, 2013 5:36pm

I like this idea, and it’s something I don’t believe I’ve seen any other online reviewers do. Maybe you could actually hide the paragraph or two about spoilery stuff on the same page, at the end of the review?

It can be kind of annoying when I read a review about some movie that has a preposterous twist at the end, but reviewers (properly enough in general) won’t say what the twist actually is. Finding it often involves wandering into some skeevy district of teh Intarwebs where tourists get routinely mugged by roving gangs of pop-up ads.

Matt Clayton
Fri, Mar 01, 2013 5:53am

MaryAnn, there are black folks in Southport and Oak Island, it’s just they’re just not shown in the film (they are certainly there during the Fourth of July celebrations). And that ferry you mentioned… it goes to Bald Head Island and Fort Fisher. Southport is accessible through the major highways. (Sorry, as a person who goes to Southport yearly, I had to nitpick that.)

But you forgot to mention David Lyons’ performance. He veers between cartoon villany and semi-creepiness, but it’s mostly hilarious. That scene where he throws a water bottle at a girl and leaves — is one of the funniest scenes in the film. Or any of the flashback scenes with Julianne Hough.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Matt Clayton
Fri, Mar 01, 2013 4:56pm

There’s a ton of terrible stuff here I didn’t mention.

Do you seriously think I think there are no black people in North Carolina? I thought I was clear that I was being snarky about their absence here.

As for the ferry, we need to blame the film for having an incoherent sense of the physical space it depicts. It’s not a problem only with the ferry, but with the neighbor Katie runs to in the beginning of the film who initially appears to live streets away but is actually only just across the road. All a result of inept direction.

reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Sun, Mar 03, 2013 6:54pm

I didn’t get snark, I got you outright saying it was preposterous for such a town to be depicted as so lilly-white.

Fri, Mar 01, 2013 12:12pm

That promo photo certainly looks like the sort of carefully-posed thing one might find in a frame. “OK, turn your head to the right, show a little more of your teeth… perfect!”

I’m now feeling tempted to write a romcom about a manic pixie dream girl who dresses funky retro and plays bass in an alt-rock band while drawing underground comics, getting together with a rumpled unshaven guy who tinkers in the garage. (Meanwhile, in the background, the over-privileged pretty people whine “what about us?” and try to get together with each other. And fail.)

Ryan Stone
Wed, Mar 06, 2013 10:53pm

“Come the gentlest, tenderest, sweetest little fudge on.”

Ha! I’m gonna start using this, if that’s alright with you.