Safe Haven (PG-13) - Runtime: 115 minutes
Starring: Josh Duhamel, Julianne Hough, Colbie Smulders
Director: Lars Hallströ
Writer: Leslie Bohem, Dana Stevens
I am a Nicholas Sparks virgin. I have miraculously avoided all of his movies. Nicholas Sparks has turned into the James Patterson of schmaltz - every year there's a new book and a new movie adaptation of said book which always includes one character dying and two star-crossed lovers trying to make the best of sad situations. I really don't know how Safe Haven became a thing for Maggie, but she was super excited about it (I think Josh Duhamel is kind of a big deal to her). And you know what? The movie wasn't that bad. Except for the M. Night Shyamalan ending - I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. We'll get into the ending because IT AFFECTS EVERYTHING!
The story sets up the romance pretty well - Katie is shown fleeing her house with blood all over her body and soon escapes off into the night as police are looking for her. She finds herself in a cozy little ocean town in North Carolina and eventually gets a creepy and horror-film themed cabin in the woods to "fix up." She falls for Alex, the widowed father of two who's just a really, super nice dude. And she also has another weirdo neighbor who lives in the woods and takes walks with her. More on that later.
The story is fine and the characters are enjoyable - the movie does a nice job of slowly revealing Katie's past and the eventual confrontation with said bloody past. There is a really awful reveal regarding Katie's husband that assumes the audience will be shocked by, but you can see coming from a mile away. Other than that, I enjoyed the story - it's not going to blow you away with an epic tale, but it's entertaining for its genre and the characters are well-written. In fact, there's really not much to be sad about - you will not be crying during this movie. If you do, than you probably had a mother who died of cancer (so sorry).
However, up until the last 5-10 minutes of the movie, I thought, "Wow. This wasn't too bad - it's a good romance story, maybe I'll sit down and watch the rest of Sparks' movies. I certainly enjoyed my time here. Now let me take just take a sip of this refreshing so-uggahgal!" Yes, I started to gag.
SPOILER ALERT! (Who knew I would have to do this for a Nicholas Sparks movie?!?!)
So let me just set this last part up. Remember that weirdo neighbor I talked about earlier? Well, she's weird in the fact that Maggie and I thought there was some sort of lesbian eroticism going on. Not really apparently. She just kind of shows up here and there (played by the respectable Colbie Smulders) and it never really amounts to anything special. But when Katie finally dispenses (and I mean DISPENSES in the most violent and gory way!) by shooting her abusive and alcoholic husband in the head and the story is all but wrapped up - Alex comes by to give her a note from his dead wife addressed "For Her."
See, about halfway through the movie it's revealed that Alex's very much dead wife has written all these really pathetic (I'm just making an assumption here) letters for important milestones to her kids. Maggie mentioned how awful it must be to receive another goddamn letter from your nagging dead mom on your wedding day - the 20th of said letters. Just one would be fine, thank you very much! So we start to hear Colbie Smulder's voice reading the note. I was like, huh, why is the creepy bi-sexual neighbor reading th-oh wait! NO NO NO NO! She's the dead wife?!?!?!? YES, it is true! The movie has been careful to not show any pictures of Jo (Alex's very sexy and lonely ghost wife) at all and then there's a picture in the actual letter to Katie showing Jo smiling with one of the kids!
So to recap: Jo is the flannel-loving unabomber neighbor who is also the deceased wife of Alex. And Katie interacts with her and talks to her all the time! Katie is not only crazy, but very, very prescient because she already knows what her future husband's dead wife looks like before she even goes out on a date with him. And the movie treats this awful, awful twist? Is that the right word? As if it's the most beautiful and amazing thing that makes this story so transcendent. The letter itself is gag-worthy - who the hell writes a letter to the future wife of their husband??? I was cringing and physically gagging the whole time that I think I ruined it for some people in the next row (seriously, this guy was wiping tears from his eyes when they got up!).
I didn't know whether to stand up and applaud and shout "Sparks - you got me! You really got me this time! I've been Shyamalaned!!! HAHA, now let's drink!" or if I should throw my delicious Coke at the screen. I'm still completely baffled by this whole experience and I still cannot decide whether I think the movie is so so bad that it's good or that I just wasted so much of my time and energy with this Ghost Mom story.
Speaking of Ghost Mom, I think Sparks is onto something. He could do a whole spinoff - the crazy adventures of Ghost Mom! "Jo is loving mother of two and a devoted wife. But she's about to find out - she's a ghost!" I envision a sitcom-esque TV show where Jo tries to hook up random strangers who have troubled pasts. It'd be part Extreme Home Makeover mixed with Hitch mixed with Ghost Dad! I'm sure this could work - it would probably be better than the Big Bang Theory!
END OF SPOILERS!
So - I did enjoy my experience with the movie more than the movie itself. It helps that both Maggie and I got an enormous kick out the ending and had endless fun making jokes about the movie. I would highly recommend this movie solely on the terribly brilliant and yet completely baffling and gag-worthy ending! You've won this round Sparks, but you can't fool me twice!
Rating: See It! (Be warned: if you laugh at the ending and your significant other does not, you might not be in a compatible relationship!)