Lifeguard on Duty
There are romance genre films coming out which are unconventional, creative and quirky, and then there are others which subscribe to the Nicholas Sparks brand of storytelling, which you would probably know by now what to get if you're a keen follower of his novels, or movies, which had adopted almost every book in his bibliography. In Safe Haven, Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom returns to the director's chair, having directed 2010's Dear John, with Josh Duhamel, Cobie Smulders and Julianne Hough playing key characters in a tale about the unlikely relationship between a widower and an abused woman.
If you're entering the movie without prior knowledge of what the key twists are in the film - there are two - then you may just enjoy the revelations when the cat's let out of the bag at the appropriate time. Hough plays Katie, who escapes to an idyllic town en route to Atlanta, and meets with Duhamel's Akex and his two children Lexie (Mimi Kirkland) and Josh (Noah Lomax), who have lost their wife/mom recently to cancer. But sparks fly and both Alex and Katie fall in love faster than you can say "Nicholas Sparks!", with the usual issues about potential step parents, where Lexie accepts Katie into their lives, but Josh being a little more resistant.
Meanwhile, the cops are after Katie for what would be an investigations into a murder, putting in a potential road block into Alex and Katie's relationship when the latter hasn't really revealed everything to her new beau, and then there's the mystery of Jo, Katie's neighbour in her rustic, quiet property in the forest bought on the cheap, who had always provided her encouragement to let go and accept the love and concern from others. It's about emotional baggage one drags along, and how others help to lighten the load through assistance without personal agendas, or so we would like to think. Surely there's a hidden agenda, and the minute she appears, it doesn't take much of a rocket scientist to find out why. And folks, you can really start sobbing from this point on.
Being part of the Nicholas Sparks universe, one would come to accept a few game rules here, where things fall in place quiet conveniently, with some element of danger or threat looming to derail what could be a fairy tale, and as far as I can remember, someone always kick the bucket. In Safe Haven, the finale will make one camp rejoice at the introduction of something new, while the other camp may finally give up at knowing the logical envelope has been pushed over the limit, and reject this. Whatever the case, seasoned movie-goers would already see this coming if one stayed eagle-eyed throughout the movie, and guess from the get go what this supposed impact would be, since Hallstrom left clues so large, they just cannot go undetected.
Josh Duhamel doesn't get a lot of romantic roles despite his hunky stature, but fit like hand in glove here playing the single dad figure to the characters of Lexie and Josh, the latter who will endear herself to audiences for her portrayal as the child who helps out at her father's convenient store. Julianne Hough's stock is on the rise, and does credibly well as a woman abused and escaping from her past, finding herself given a second chance at love and life if only her emotional baggage doesn't come back to haunt her.
However, being right and right in casting the leading actors, the casting process probably overlooked their discrepancies in height. I know falling in love is illogical, but for the sake of camera angles and pitying Hough's toes and calves when she has to resort to tip-toeing each time camera angles and perspectives fail to frame both of them together neatly. And sometimes when all else fails, I am guessing the good ol' soapbox helps to put them almost eye-to-eye. This discrepancy is distracting, where you'll sometimes sneak a peek to see if her character's wearing heels at the time, or had suddenly discovered genome solutions to grow inches taller at a whim.
Safe Haven is precisely just that, with comfort zone sensibilities in its narrative and filmmaking technique. Those hard up for a romantic flick will be up for this, as would thousands of Nicholas Sparks fans around the world. However, it does seem that the better Sparks novels turned films are already way past and done, and it would take something quite extraordinary to reinvent and reinvigorate the film franchise and brand.