A Review of Safe Haven, directed by Lasse Hallström (2013)
Friends, I have to come clean with you about something. My name is Rebecca and I . . . I have really been looking forward to seeing the latest Nicholas Sparks movie.
So, last night my sister and I made the pilgrimage and, well, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Julianne Hough plays Katie, a woman running from a violent past, who ends up in small town North Carolina. There she meets Alex, a widower with two kids. And the rest is romance history. I haven’t read the novel Safe Haven, so I can’t comment on it as an adaptation, but I did think Hallström did a nice job: the romance was understated and believable (if a little flat), the setting beautifully evoked, and Katie’s past legitimately sinister.
My favorite thing about Safe Haven (besides Katie’s house), though, was Julianne Hough. I have no idea whether she’s a good actor or she was just being herself, but either way, I found her very refreshing. So many romance couples are swoony and cutesy, but even in the face of small town hospitality and romance Hough was wary, a little skittish, self-preservingly impolite, and has a great husky voice. We’ve been having a lot of conversations lately about the disturbingly thin line in some YA romances between romantic beau geste and stalkerish creepiness. In light of that, I found Katie’s character’s negative reaction to Alex’s beau geste (even though it wasn’t intrinsically creepy) particularly refreshing, especially in a genre that usually isn’t. Josh Duhamel as the grieving widower was good, too—he didn’t overplay any of the emotions, but he’s sweet, sincere, and endearingly unsuave.
The dialogue is actually pretty good, except for the notable, and unfortunate, exception of the scene where Katie and Alex declare their love. But, you know, those scenes are pretty awkward in real life too. The drama is legitimately engaging. And director Lasse Hallström, true to form, really plays the small moments well: numerous shots of feet going from place to place, hands touching in the sand. And there are a few “twists,” which are pretty predictable, but add to the dynamics of the film.
In short, Safe Haven is a well-made, well-paced romance that manages to infuse a predictable plot with some legitimate suspense—so, as long as you’re not expecting anything more than that, you probably won’t be disappointed. I wasn’t.