First, let’s just get it out in the open that I only watched the second half of this movie. It was the in-flight for a cross-country American Airlines hellride. Second, I just want to observe that it’s perhaps less than kosher to force an entire plane to watch a movie which revolves around domestic abuse, complete with flashbacks and a drunken Terminator-esque husband villain. (Oh, except that our flight was screened to ensure that no abuse-survivors were on-board. Wait–no it wasn’t.) And it’s not like you could not-watch; I spent the first half of the film trying to ignore the dozens of video screens splayed out before me (like an army of NBC-promoting robot-monsters) before finally caving and plugging in my earphones.
Safe Haven appears to be exactly like every other Nicholas Sparks movie (e.g. Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, The Notebook). I haven’t seen any other Nicholas Sparks movies, but I have seen their trailers, and this one was EXACTLY what you expected from the trailer, so I DEDUCE that they’re all the same. In a word: two attractive youngish white heterosexuals fall in love, BUT they’ve had some bad experiences (abusive and/or dead ex, in Safe Haven and probably all of them). The dramatic tension arises from said love gradually whelming and then overwhelming their baggage.
What’s most fascinating about Safe Haven is its inability to distinguish between text and subtext. Characters say things like “I am completely in love with you” and “I have to go. This is just too hard” and “My husband was a bad guy.” The writers’ watchword seems to have been “Tell, don’t show.” Other lines appear to be lifted from country western songs: “He doesn’t know you like I know you / He doesn’t love you like I love you.” It’s as though Sparks/the writers had a formula for writing the script, but forgot to replace the formula with specific content, so the actors ended up reciting notes rather than dialogue. When I plugged in my headphones halfway through to listen, what before had appeared to be a reasonably smart middle-age romance was revealed to be the soccer-mom version of Twilight.
Similarly, the film lacks self-awareness–to a, like, ADORABLE extent. Example: there’s this unwittingly symmetry between the opening scene, in which the protagonist’s manly, abusive husband chases her through a bus station to stop her from leaving, and the end of the second act, in which the protagonist’s manly, nurturing new boyfriend chases her through a ferry terminal and (successfully) convinces her to “Stay. Please. Just stay.” You can tell that her new boyfriend is nurturing because he comes with two children-accessories, and he’s cuter than the abusive husband. Also, he smiles and doesn’t drink and doesn’t beat the protagonist. And his eyes aren’t bloodshot.
Having thus ripped upon the script, I should point out that it’s coherently plotted, which is nothing to sneeze at. Things which happen later in the film follow logically from things which happened earlier: for example, when Sparks needs the abusive husband to finally find the protagonist for the climax, the husband doesn’t just show up out of nowhere. There’s a causal chain of events, such that WIFE LEAVES –> HEAVY DRINKING –> SUSPENSION FROM WORK –> RAISED DESPERATION –> HOME INVASION –> HUSBAND FINDS EVIDENCE OF PROTAGONIST’S LOCATION.
I enjoyed Safe Haven. There was love and drama and explosions and (spoiler) ghosts and a police station which was scarcely distinguishable from the locker room of the Mighty Ducks’ opponents. And, unlike the episode of The Office that American Airlines apparently has the rights to show, Safe Haven wasn’t played three times during my flight.