The latest Nicholas Sparks‘ adaptation, based on his novel of the same name, and directed by Lasse Hallström, Safe Haven follows a young woman (Julianne Hough) with a mysterious past, who runs away to Southport, North Carolina where her bond with a widower (Josh Duhamel) and friendship with her neighbour (Cobie Smulders) forces her to move on and look forward to the future, but to do that she must first confront the dark secret that haunts her.
Usually quite a sucker for a Nicholas Sparks adaptation, I didn’t look forward to this one, nor did I enjoy it. Where Safe Haven goes wrong straight away is that the adaptation completely lacks any engagement, either emotional or not. With Sparks’ other adaptations there’s usually something to draw you in, whether it be a tiny perk like Dear John‘s decent leading duo or one that lives up to the high qualities of The Notebook. Safe Haven, however, lacks anything to make it distinctive and, in the end, there is nothing there to make it worth the watch.
Julianne Hough isn’t an awful lead but she doesn’t have a likeable enough character to follow. Whilst her performance does have the hard edge that is required for her character, I’m yet to take any of her roles seriously, though admittedly she does step up here from what I’ve seen of her before. Nevertheless, her on-screen relationship with Josh Duhamel‘s character lacks any chemistry or real story of undying love to win you over. The chemistry between the leading couple and the over-melodramatic churning of having a ‘one true love’ pours out of the many other Sparks’ adaptations, and with so many other films to compare Safe Haven to it just doesn’t live up.
Hough’s relationship with Cobie Smulders‘ character, as well, is incredibly miss-matched for such a romantic drama. The female friendship is constantly awkward and, whilst it makes sense in the end, seems only an irritable distraction before it is given any real purpose. Even the mixture of mystery/slight thriller comes off as confused, which I presume was a better quality of the book and something that should have set this film aside from Sparks’ other work.
In the end, everything’s just far too familiar – the boat trip, the kissing in the rain – and if we’ve seen it before then we’ve certainly seen it done better. Instead of breaking the mould, Safe Haven is predictable, forgettable, and completely one-dimensional. Because of this, the twist at the end comes off as down-right ridiculous, and the emotion just isn’t there to forgive it for its flaws. I’m still happy to be single anyway, which says a lot on its own.