Katie (Julianne Hough) runs away from a violent situation and finds herself in a small American town that just so happens to be picturesque and filled with incredibly friendly people. It is not long before she strikes up a friendship with Alex (Josh Duhamel), his kids and, reluctantly, Jo (Cobie Smulders), but it won’t be long before Katie’s past catches up with her.
The first thing you need to know is that Safe Haven is based on a book by Nicholas Sparks – King of the romantic, dramatic story – and the second is that the film is directed by Lasse Hallström, a director who, since his master work The Cider House Rules, has become comfortable directing romantic films. Still with me? OK.
Films based on Nicholas Sparks’s books generally contain characters that are sweet but mostly vanilla. The same is true here; Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel do not delineate at all, and have very little to do other than be sweet and smitten (Duhamel) and sweet and scared (Hough). This is not really a complaint though, as this works for the film, which sets itself up to be another romantic weep fest. Of course it would be nice to see some strong character development, or motivations that make even a lick of sense, but remember, this is a Nicholas Sparks vessel, so just tone it down.
Cobie Smulders does not fare much better than her co-stars, but at least she comes off as someone who is nosy but caring, rather than vapid and inconsequential. OK, so she does come off as inconsequential for most of the film, but there is a reason for that… No spoilers though.
As for the story, once again, it is gently charming but vanilla; girl running away from her past finds the love of her life etc etc… Sparks and screenwriters Leslie Bohem and Dana Stevens obviously tried to make this story a little different, but by the time the twist arrives, it is more annoying and confusing than genuinely interesting or inspired.
Director Lasse Hallström is obviously in his comfort zone here and has made a film that is pleasant, inviting and looks pretty enough, but it is nothing we have not seen before. Hallström allows the actors and story to be warm but vapid, but then Safe Haven was never going to be a film that changed the world. Sometimes, we just have to accept that there are sentimental romantic dramas out there, after all that’s how we got Ryan Gosling, isn’t it?
Safe Haven is sentimental, sweet and charming enough, but without defined characters and a predictable story that turns a little silly, there is little here that is going to challenge or inspire. That said, sometimes we just need a romantic drama, and there are worse ones out there than this.