There are romantic dramas, and then there are Nicholas Sparks romantic dramas. The man has a gift; you'd never imagine that so many class-conscious love affairs with a cancer twist and secret letters could happen in small Southern beach towns, and yet he keeps delivering. In Safe Haven, Sparks's traditional summer love formula adds a dash of Law & Order, and there is more security-cam footage than you'd expect to see in a movie about Learning to Love Again. But it is still a Sparks film, and all of the traditional cliches — canoes! home improvement! — apply. So as a service to genre enthusiasts and/or anyone who wants a cheap hit of Notebook fumes, Vulture now presents a breakdown of Safe Haven according to Sparks rules.
Big-City Heroine's Secret Tragedy
Without spoiling one of approximately twelve twist endings, we'll just say that Julianne Hough's Katie flees her homes, cuts and dyes her hair (with the help of a neighbor) and narrowly escapes Boston within the first ten minutes of the movie. She ranks ahead of Miley Cyrus (secret piano skills in The Last Song) but behind Mandy Moore (cancer in Walk to Remember.)
Barrier to Love
We're firmly in "Not Ready for Love" territory here, with one part sad widower (Message in a Bottle, but also sad divorcees in Nights in Rodanthe and Lucky One) and two parts emotionally-damaged ingenue (The Last Song, Walk to Remember, Dear John).
Proximity to Ocean
Right on top of it. Josh Duhamel is working some prime beachfront property -- way closer than the house in Last Song, and maybe even closer than Nights in Rodanthe. And it totally dominates The Notebook (that house was on a marsh).
Home Improvement Montage
Nothing is going to top The Notebook house (it had a painting room!), but Julianne Hough does paint the floors in her dingy new cabin. Turns out you can paint floors.
Guess what Josh Duhamel's wife died from? Cancer (Walk to Remember, Last Song, Dear John).
Romantic Outdoors-y Outing
Look, there is no way to sugarcoat this: Safe Haven totally jacks the canoe scene from The Notebook. It starts raining in the middle and everything. Nicholas Sparks is allowed to recycle from himself, we guess, but this is pretty much sacrilege. (It is very Sparksian, though.)
Heartbreaking Handwritten Letters
They're here, as in Rodanthe and Dear John, and they're mostly unread (like in the Notebook), but surprise: they're not between lovers. They're letters written to the future, from Josh Duhamel's dead wife. (That's another trick cribbed from the Notebook.)
Twist Ending (super vague spoiler)
It involves a benevolent ghost. We see you, Walk to Remember and Nights in Rodanthe and The Last Song.
Where does it fit on the Nicholas Sparks Spectrum?
It's not as bad as The Lucky One (Zac Efron, smile already!), and it's not as sad as Nights in Rodanthe. But Miley and Liam have far more chemistry in Last Song (also: sea turtles!) and Walk to Remember is a teen classic. Safe Haven has some ridiculous SVU-style twists and a cute kid, but that's it. Mediocre at best.
2 out of 5 Sparks