Whenever people criticize Nicholas Sparks movies for being glorified Lifetime movies, someone brings up The Notebook. Mostly because it’s a romantic movie with solid acting and an interesting-enough plot. Also people get all emotional about it because old people dancing. But after seeing Safe Haven with Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel, I’m 100% positive that Nicholas Sparks totally lucked out with the casting in The Notebook. Because when you put actors as blah as Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel on screen, it becomes embarrassingly clear just how empty his stories are on the big screen.
So let’s talk about Safe Haven in a non-spoiler-free way (that’s your warning if you hate spoilers). If you’re going to be smart and save you money until the movie premieres on TBS next year, here’s what you need to know about the plot.
Katie (Julianne Hough) runs away from her abusive husband by getting on a bus to Atlanta. However while on her way to Atlanta, the bus stops in a small town with a great water views and she decides to stay there. Within the first five minutes of living in Small Town USA, she meets Alex (Josh Duhamel) and his motherless children. His daughter Lexie (Mimi Kirkland) immediately grows attached to Katie and the two are fast friends. While most fathers would look at this development with concern and consider contacting a child psychologist, Alex takes it as a sign that Katie’s the most wonderful woman alive. Then again he also lets his very young daughter run his small-town country store, so his parenting skills aren’t the greatest. Also are you getting what I’m trying to say here? This is a very small town full of charm and character and single dads!!!
Since she’s trying to lay low, Katie rents a house on the outskirts of town. Because the best place to live when you’re in fear for your life is in the middle of nowhere. Those are just lessons that Katie picked up from her classes at Horror Movie University. While living in the woods, she becomes friends with her neighbor Jo (Cobie Smulders), another loner who likes privacy, but also conversation. It’s confusing for Katie, and also for me.
Obviously Katie’s abusive husband tracks her down and tries to kill her and Josh Duhamel saves the day. Because the best way to portray domestic abuse in movies is with a side of heroic valor. If more good men would protect helpless women, there would be no more domestic abuse. Right? That’s the message I got from this movie. Anyway, once Katie’s husband’s out of the way she can live happily with Alex and his two little moppets.
Then twist, really super dumb twist, we find out that Jo’s actually a ghost who only Katie saw in the woods. And bonus twist, she’s Alex’s dead wife and she just showed up on earth to make sure that Katie would be a good addition to the family. Because that supernatural twist was really needed in this movie. Also it has to be said that I don’t understand how the following conversation never took place between Katie and Alex.
Katie: I met this great woman who lives in the woods too! Her name’s Jo and she sure asks a lot of questions about you and the kids.
Alex: Her name is Jo? I didn’t know any Jo lived in the woods and as you know this is a very small town where everyone knows everything. What does she look like?
Katie: Oh brown hair, eyes, nose, pretty much identical to your dead wife. See her? She’s standing right over there.
Alex: I don’t see anyone.
Katie: No, right there!
Alex: Katie, I think you’re seeing my dead wife in ghost form.
Katie: Ahhh, that makes a lot of sense. Man, all those times you watched me walk away when I was talking to Jo, you must’ve thought I was talking to myself.
Alex: It was adorable and just made me want you to spend more time alone with my young children.
As you can probably guess from my movie recap, it didn’t really do it for me. The romance moved too quickly and the plot moved too slow. Sure, Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough are fine as far as actors go. They probably show up on time and memorize their lines and all that jazz that goes into making a movie. But their performances never pop. They’re just two good-looking people who someone found when searching stock images for “standard good-looking people.” There’s nothing more to them than that. And that includes chemistry. While I totally believed that Noah (Ryan Gosling) and Allie (Rachel McAdams) are meant to be together in The Notebook, I didn’t feel that way at all during Safe Haven. You know, because chemistry matters in movies like these.
And that brings me full circle back to The Notebook and how Nicholas Sparks totally lucked out when he cast these young actors in his movie. Even though they’d both starred in other movies before The Notebook, this was their first big blockbuster. And you know why it was a blockbuster that still gets played 900 times on TV every weekend? Because they’re solid actors who managed to bring depth to one-note characters. There’s no way that movie would be a cult classic if Josh Duhamel or Julianne Hough had those roles. Or Shane West and Mandy Moore. Or even Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried. Or any other standard good-looking couple that Nicholas Sparks put in his other movies.
So make sure to extra-enjoy The Notebook the next time you spend a Sunday watching it on your couch and crying. It’s not only the story that’s magical, but also the fact that it’s any good.