Safe Haven Review
I don't care if people judge me or laugh at me. There are some good films in the romance genre, yes they are far and in between. However, that does not mean that they don't exist and that the genre isn't worth everybody's time and attention. It is definitely a hard genre for me to sit through, sense it seems the genre only wants to make carbon copies of the same film over and over again, and call that a genre. Usually, much like the sports genre, a romance movie has to do a little more than just the usual.
I actually think a great example of a good romance is "The Notebook."
Yes its cutesy and lubby-dubby, but that doesn't mean the film doesn't work. The film has funny and charming moments that work, and yes it has the heart-warming stuff too. The movie seems compelled to take the normal romantic cliches and re-define or maybe reconstruct them, instead of merely repeating them. I think that is why "The Notebook" got so popular the rest of the world had to embrace it. "The Notebook" was based upon a book by Nicholas Sparks, a guy whom I thought would rejuvenate romance on film. Sadly looking at "The Lucky One," and parts of other books brought to film, that wasn't the case. His other books-turned-movies were the very definition of romance movie that I wanted to stay away from.
I feel "Safe Haven" does a slightly better job than most matching the impact of "The Notebook." But sadly, not by much. I will admit that I had a much better time watching "Safe Haven" compared to "The Lucky One," but I feel "Safe Haven" was still plagued by a fair share of problems. Granted, none of those problems really stem from genre cliches. If you read or saw "The Notebook," you know exactly what you're getting into with "Safe Haven." Nicholas writes romance like Stephen King writes horror, to not expect cutesy-poo fluff is honestly silly.
The film begins with a woman rushing to an older woman's house for refuge. Then we cut instantly to a blonde getting on a train to Atlanta, with a police detective in pursuit. The detective doesn't catch her, but apparently the blonde is wanted for murder. She makes to a small town in North Carolina, gets a job, a house and fling in the form of Alex (Josh Duhamel). Alex has struggles of his own, he's a single dad whose wife died three years ago due to cancer. The mysterious blonde (Named Katie, played by Julianne Hough) feels an instant attraction to Alex and they both hit it off. As Katie's past comes back to haunt her, Alex has to make a big decision of how to handle it.
I think what makes this film work for the most part is the work done by Duhamel and Hough. For a first time actress, Hough actually does a pretty good job bring Katie to life. She has a few awkward moments on-screen, but I feel that is mainly due to the script rather her talent. I feel like most celebrities who instantly want to act can be distracting and horrific, as I feel most of those celebrities who have stepped up to plate need to keep their day jobs, not Hough. She is at least able to sell her story, for that she gets credit. Duhamel is always hit or miss, but this time he is able to bring a certain level of charm and quirkiness to Alex, without either emotion overdoing the other. David Lyons plays Kevin, the detective hot on Katie's tail, I feel his character is used very well. Lyons is greasy bad guy, and Lyons gets the most out of his screentime.
Sadly that is about all the good points about "Safe Haven." As the movie moves into its last stretch, you begin to have to make major leaps in logic to believe what you are seeing. When I say major, I do mean MAJOR. Even for a romance movie, some stuff you need to believe and give into is definitely tough at times. That also leads to the twists.
Wait...what? Did I just say twists? Yes I did. There are a couple big reveals in the last half of the movie. And I will be honest here. The first big reveal I definitely did not see coming, I knew the detective and Katie would be linked somehow, but not in the way the movie reveals them to be. So that's good, but the ending makes a major reveal about the Cobie Smulders character. Cobie Smulders plays Jo, Katie's neighbor who becomes her best friend in town. If any character will cause controversy, its hers and I think the decisions made in the end will either make or break the movie for you. As the reveal around Katie and the detective kept the plot moving, the final reveal before the credits felt shoehorned to in order to pry one last emotion out of the audience. By that time though, I felt like I was watching M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village." The last reveal just didn't work for me. It also doesn't help that Smulders for the most part feels like she is reading cue-cards instead of actually acting. Yes I've seen "How I Met You're Mother," and "The Slammin' Salmon," and "The Avengers." I just don't get much off of her and it hurt the experience for me. I know many will tell me it is based off Sparks' book. Well, if it is indeed in the book too, than it would be a problem for me in book format too. Sometimes, certain story beats work better in one media outlet, but not another. Perhaps that can be said about "Safe Haven."
Overall, "Safe Haven" gets points for making a decent romance movie that definitely doesn't play it safe. I like that about the movie, it just feels at the end they tried too hard. Even with movies it is possible to try to hard. I have never been a fan of movies that just make up rules on the fly, and I think "Safe Haven" suffers from that. It got close to being on par with "The Notebook," but to no cigar.
FINAL GRADE: C+