Film Review: Safe Haven

Couples could do a lot worse on Valentine's than seeing this romantic drama which, although springing from the same author, is far less bathetic than the popular 'The Notebook.'

Sleepy Southport, North Carolina seems the perfect place for Katie Feldman (Julianne Hough), who is on the run for possible implication in a murder. She makes a new life for herself in an isolated cottage, getting employment as a waitress and just tries to keep to herself. But the warm attention of local storekeeper Alex (Josh Duhamel), a charming single father of two, makes her reach out emotionally, just when her dark past is about to catch up to her, with devastating results.

Adapted from a novel by chick-flick specialist Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook, Dear John, A Walk to Remember) and mercifully devoid of his usual heavy sentimental hand, Safe Haven is an appealing, compelling romance that will no doubt thrill the ladies, and not be too terribly much of a chore for their menfolk to endure. Ever pictorially alert, director Lasse Hallström uses the pretty, sylvan Southern setting as almost an extra character here and, especially for moviegoers who’ve been particularly wracked by these brutal winter months, his film operates as something of a mini-vacation to boot. Terry Spacey’s lovely cinematography captures all the assets of the Spanish moss-hung verdancy, the shabby chic village and sparkling, dappled water, as well as the attractive cast.

Move over, Meg Ryan, there’s a possible new America’s Sweetheart in Hough, who bears a resemblance to that actress, with a natural verve and spunky charm all her own. She convincingly plays both the pre-trauma, urban sophisticate brunette Katie and her sun-bleached blonde later self, wary yet receptive to warmth. Hough and the somewhat bland Duhamel, with his perfect, tiny-featured face and dashing—if somewhat narrow-shouldered—physique, make convincing lovers, enough that you do care about their imperiled relationship.

David Lyons as Kevin, the fanatically obsessed guy from Katie’s past intent on finding her, brings a goodly amount of effective tension to the proceedings, and his big fight with her has a scary immediacy. Cobie Smulders (TV’s “How I Met Your Mother”) appears as the first friend Katie makes in Southport, and with her dark looks and tomboyish ways, bears an amusing resemblance to Suzanne Pleshette in Hitchcock’s The Birds, but her fate, although the major twist of the movie, is not nearly as bloody. For me, the real star of the movie, however, is, little Mimi Kirkland as Alex’s daughter, who has a disarming authenticity that makes her one of the most enchanting movie moppets seen in many a moon.