Thursday, February 14, 2013

Safe Haven [2013]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (L) Chicago Sun-Times (1 1/2 Stars)  AV Club (D+) Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
Chicago Sun-Times (R. Roeper) review
AV Club (S. Tobias) review

Ok it must be admitted at the outset that Safe Haven (directed by Lasse Hallström, screenplay Leslie Bohem and Dana Stevens, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks [IMDb]) is schmaltzy.

But (1) I've been a consistent and unblushing fan of schmaltz on my blog (Country Strong [2010], Crazy Stupid Love [2011], Damsels in Distress [2012], The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn [2011-2012]) and (2) hello, this film is being released FOR VALENTINE'S DAY.  And among the other films being released in the United States this Valentine's Day -- the Bruce Willis ultra-shoot-em up vehicle A Good Day to Die Hard ;-), and the pro-witch (err "caster") movie Beautiful Creatures -- it would seem TO ME ;-) that Safe Haven is by far the best film being released for the occasion this year though I also honestly liked the teen/young adult 1/2 zombie romance Warm Bodies (again über-schmaltzy) released a few weeks ago.

Additionally, Safe Haven actually has a nice message to it -- stalking / abuse destroys all that is good about life and love -- that's not necessarily something bad to be reminded of on Valentine's Day as well.

Okay, so what is the film about?  The movie begins with what appears to be a crime scene and a young woman who we later know as Katie (played by Julianne Hough) fleeing the scene in a driving rain storm, taking refuge by a sympathetic neighbor.  We next see her with shorter and blonder hair dressed in a very innocuous way (jeans, t-shirt and a hoodie) boarding a bus (still during a driving rain storm) to "head out of town" (the "town" apparently being Boston).  After she boards, we see a police officer (played by David Lyons) frantically running from bus to bus looking for her (though alas expecting someone with longer and browner hair) in a scene somewhat reminiscent of the closing scene of Sucker Punch [2011] of a few years past.  As in the closing scene of that movie, she gets away...

In the next scene, we see Katie getting off the bus "somewhere in the South" (it turns out to be a beach side community somewhere in North Carolina inevitably evoking the film Cape Fear [1962][1991]).  The stop is actually just a rest stop for the bus, which is heading further south to Atlanta.  But Katie decides to stay.  Since this is a story, some suspension of disbelief is necessary to accept what follows -- in short order she finds both a job (as a waitress at a seaside seafood diner) and place to live (in a somewhat rundown and very secluded cabin in the woods outside of town).  It does not take a great deal of life-experience to know that securing either is not nearly that easy, especially if one is "new" in town, presumably using "only cash," and presumably / necessarily not carrying a lot of it.  But again, it's a story ... ;-)

Traumatized as she is (we see that she experience flashbacks/nightmares) and initially wary of others, she finds herself making friends, specifically with two people (1) a young woman, about her age, brunette named Jo (played by Cobie Smulders) who shows up one day at her house and introduces herself as someone who also lives at the edge of the woods and (2) a young widower named Alex (played by Josh Duhamel) again her age, who operates the town's general store and lives in town with his two little children Josh (played by Noah Lomax) and Lexie (played by Mimi Kirkland).

Inevitably an initially cautious romance begins between Katie and Alex with the encouragement of both Jo and Lexie and initial skepticism of Josh.  But of course it's an "impossible romance" so long as whatever happened back in Boston remains (something that Katie's not found a way to share with anybody down in the sleepy little town in North Carolina she begins to call home).  And indeed, we find the police officer back in Boston methodically tracking her down with Les Miserables' Javert-like doggedness.

Of course, all this must come to a head, and it does.  There is a climactic scene that takes place in the midst of the North Carolina town's 4th of July (Independence Day) fireworks display.  And much comes to be revealed as it all comes to be (happily) resolved.

Again, it's a schmaltzy movie, but a lovely one and one that even reminds the viewer of the Demi Moore / Patrick Swayze romance/tear-jerker Ghost [1990].  And I have to admit that I'm a complete sucker for these kind of films, especially since I also lost my mother when I was young (though definitely not as young as the kids in this film) and I watched my dad rebuild his life afterwards (with all the attendant pain and initial incomprehension/misunderstandings).

So very nice film folks and Happy Valentine's Day to all ;-)

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