So the story is this. A worried-looking young mystery woman runs off, jumping on a bus at the Boston depot at the last minute, just evading a police detective, who then doggedly tries to track her whereabouts by scrutinising public video footage.
The woman, Julianne Hough, hoves up at an idyllic, all-American coastal town, popping in for a takeaway coffee at the local grocery store and meeting drop-dead gorgeous hunk Josh Duhamel, a widower with two young kids, his wife having died of cancer.
Julianne (Footloose, Rock of Ages) is an ice-cool blonde, cold and frosty and a shade hard looking. Hitchcock might have liked her, though she’s on the petite side. She just wants to be alone, and rents a rundown cabin the woods, but has to take a job waiting table at the local café, where everyone is really nice and friendly.
Then one day, Julianne comes home to find another mystery woman peering into her window, supposedly a kindly neighbour, though Julianne’s been told by her realtor she has no neighbours. Odd that.
However, Josh looks kindly at Julianne, offers her a bit of help and an old bike, she refuses, he insists, she refuses, he gets hurt feelings, she… well, you know. And his kids pretty much adore her too. And the mystery woman becomes a friend as well.
But then the detective starts closing in on her…
A glossy, escapist romantic wallow is on the menu for Nicholas Sparks’ latest bestselling novel to transfer to the screen. Fans of Message in a Bottle, The Notebook, Dear John and The Lucky One need look no further for a lovely trip to the multiplex. Posh director Lasse Hallstrom directs as though he believes it all, and as though he believes his own message. He appreciates sentiment but not sentimentality, he says. In truth there’s not a scintilla of reality or truth on show here along with the chocolate-box East Coast sunsets, and by the end the film upends in barrel-loads of sentimentality. But then, it’s only a movie, a sweet and soppy one, beautifully, even lovingly made, and perfectly acted by talented people who sometimes look as though they’d like to take the money and run.
Still, the chemistry between the actors is strong, the romance is fine, the element and mystery and action adds tension and a surprise to the mix, and the North Carolina setting is beguiling. For three quarters of its long running time (115 minutes), it’s an appealing wet-afternoon movie, but, when it pushes too many buttons at the climax, it crashes in flames. Finally, nothing is credible and embarrassed giggles start breaking out in the cinema.
I feel sorry for Aussie actor David Lyons (TV’s Revolution) and Cobie Smulders (TV’s How I Met Your Mother), the actors who play the detective and the mystery woman. They seem like really good actors stuck in horribly clichéd roles that have no flesh and blood whatever. These are total script contrivances. Josh and Julianne, though, keep powering ahead quite charismatically, and the two kids, Noah Lomax and Mimi Kirkland, are models of energy and honesty.
Riskily, Hallstrom encouraged everyone to improvise dialogue and both stars, unused to improv, found it tricky (‘Honestly, some days both Josh and I wished we could just have a script,’ says Julianne) but it keeps the dialogue fresh and sparky. This is probably the best thing about the movie. Even with its thriller plot, I can’t see many blokes going for Safe Haven, but it could be a guilty pleasure for the chicks.