Last week for Valentine’s Day my friends invited me to see Safe Haven, yet another adaptation of a novel by Nicholas Sparks, the acclaimed author of romantic fiction novels such as The Notebook and A Walk to Remember. My initial response: no. But I reconsidered and decided sure, okay, I could use some loving and some time well spent with friends. This film is built on the solid foundation that supports every Nicholas Sparks movie: a hot couple. Katie (Julianne Hough) is a young woman running away from a dark past, and Alex (Josh Duhamel) is the widowed general store manager who struggles to be a good father following the death of his wife. They fall in love, naturally, and the rest is an anagram of the first four letters of “history.”
Safe Haven’s storytelling is schizophrenic. It’s like a two-hour long prescription drug commercial. Hough rides a bike along Spanish moss-lined dirt roads and frolics with beautiful children on beaches, but every now and then you’ll get whiplashed to the alcoholic husband who’s been stabbed and, realistically speaking, should have died at various points during the narrative. But he still manages to make the audience (fangirls, that one old couple and obnoxious commentators like me) scream when he somehow appears out of nowhere (exactly when we expect him to).
Safe Haven is not even relevant without the unofficial tagline “the new Nicholas Sparks film.” I have never picked up a Sparks book, but I will say that all Sparks-based films are not created equal. The Notebook was pretty enjoyable, if not necessarily good. Remember that cute boating scene in The Notebook that was interrupted by a torrential, passionate downpour? Well, guess what. That happens in Safe Haven too! (No makeout, though. Way to change it up, Nick.) It’s like loving Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and being disappointed with every book he’s written since then because they follow the same plot structure. There are a few “twists” thrown in for good measure, but they are somehow more clichéd than the rest of the film.
Many of us are familiar with Valentine’s Day’s other name: Single’s Awareness Day. Retrospective conclusions after watching Safe Haven: loving is painful and tedious, and this film is definitely not time well spent.