safe haven (another sparks movie + murder?)

Still feeling the after-effects of V-day? Listen to the soundtrack of Nicholas Sparks’ newest book-turned-movie, Safe Haven. It’s sweet and sparkly and wistful… very Americana folksy and pop/country (only Gareth Dunlop is Irish and The Deep Dark Woods are Canadian).

Like this track from Jason Mraz’s ex:

If you’re curious about the movie itself, I wrote a review (found below) for BusinessWorld Weekender.

Bits of it I liked. Such as the music (something I forgot to mention). And the scenery (mentioned). And yellow paint on the kitchen floor (not mentioned).

And this quote from the book that was absent in the movie (I Googled it, and then looked for it in the book, eight pages of which I read before watching the movie — as mentioned in the review):

“You never answered my question,” Alex said. “About what you want to do with your life.”
“Maybe my dreams aren’t that complicated. Maybe I think that a job is just a job.”
“What does that mean?”
“Maybe I don’t want to be defined by what I do. Maybe I’d like to be defined by what I am.”

I could sort of relate with that. Not so much with what comes immediately after:

He considered the response. “Okay,” he said. “Then who do you want to be?”
“Do you really want to know?”
“I wouldn’t have asked you otherwise.”
She stopped and met his gaze. “I’d like to be a wife and mother,” she finally said.
He frowned. “But I thought you said that you weren’t sure whether you wanted to have children.”
She cocked her head, looking as beautiful as he’d ever seen. “What does that have to do with anything?”

Medyo malabo kasi tsong. Then again, it’s just an excerpt.

Sometimes I like picking things apart and keeping the parts that I like.

+

BusinessWorld Weekender
Safe Haven
Directed by Lasse Hallström

No longer playing it safe?

Nicholas Sparks is the most prolific literary hatchet man currently in business. He’s the go-to guy if you want a love story with a pivotal death thrown in to stir up his characters –- ensuring that the audience vicariously experiences the extremes of joy and heartbreak that come with grand mal L-O-V-E.

This technique is manipulative, yes, but also effective. To date, Sparks has gotten eight out of 17 of his best-selling novels (not counting Wokini, the self-help book) adapted into movies. And true to form, either the main character/s or supporting character/s end up as a plot device somewhere six feet under.

Sparks has spent a considerable amount of time dreaming up ways to kill off a character. Based on the movies alone: lost at sea (Message in a Bottle), leukemia (A Walk to Remember), dementia followed by the suggestion of willful death by old age (The Notebook), flash mudslide (Nights in Rodanthe), lymphoma (Dear John), stomach cancer (The Last Song), and mortar attack/killed in action (The Lucky One).

I’m still teed off by a certain movie purportedly about second chances, and with characters badly in need of an HEA (happily ever after), only to have the looked-for love affair get nipped in the bud by a tragedy –- for shame! I still think Sparks should apologize for that one.

However, in his latest offering, Safe Haven, he seems to be turning over a new leaf: suspense.

Not to say that Safe Haven isn’t your usual sentimental Sparks love story set in a sleepy, rural American town… it is, but there’s an element of danger, of mystery, of a gathering storm that will break by the end of the movie and result in – wait for it – possible death! Possibly the second death, since the movie starts out with a woman on the run, with blood on her hands, her pretty dress, and her pretty brown hair soon dyed peroxide blonde.

The young woman, Katie (Julianne Hough), boards a bus bound for Atlanta, Georgia in the nick of time, even while a ferocious –- and increasingly hollow-eyed and creepy –- Boston PD cop, Kevin (David Lyons), follows closely at her heels. She eventually gets down at a pit stop in Southport, North Carolina. Seemingly appreciative of the calming harbor, she decides to rent a rickety house within walking distance from town, and settles in.

We watch Katie’s attempts at being antisocial fall by the wayside as she forms cautious bonds with the tiny community, particularly with nosy neighbor Jo (Cobie Smulders), the child Lexi (Mimi Kirkland) and by extension her brother Josh (Noah Lomax), and ever-so-reluctantly, with their widower father, the obviously interested Alex (Josh Duhamel).

Alex has come to terms with losing his wife to cancer (ding!) but keeps a little room above his harbor store filled with her effects, something like a shrine to her memory that he goes back to when he feels troubled. Katie’s last date, meanwhile, did not end well –- to put it mildly. The switch for these two from caution to full-blown infatuation is a little swift for me, but there’s only so much build-up that can be done with gift exchanges, coy glances and furtive hand-holding.

There’s a rushed feeling to the movie, almost a made-for-TV pacing to it. Character development feels deliberately sketchy, when you would like a little more natural progression to the friendship between Jo and Katie, and the “courtship” between Katie and Alex. Part of this is the obscuring effect of mystery. One is waiting for the other shoe to drop -– for the cops to find Katie, for Alex to discover who exactly he’s sleeping with (that’s not a spoiler, you saw that coming, right?), for Katie to decide to come clean or make another run for it, among other revelations.

Safe Haven the movie is also sparse with the dialogue (you don’t latch on to any snippet of wit or wisdom). It is not as visually stunning as The Notebook (his first book and third movie and easily his best product to date), which was filmed in South Carolina –- how do you beat swans trained to follow a boat in a tree-filled lake? But Safe Haven does have that charming rural scenery that Sparks is known to showcase.

We probably have the scriptwriters Gage Lansky and Dana Stevens to thank for the movie’s rousing running start – a departure from the book (yes, before watching the movie, I blinked through eight pages of waitressing and woolgathering in picturesque Southport). Then again, shouldn’t we credit Sparks for wanting to be a little less predictable by dabbling in a bit of spooky?

And do we credit/blame director Lasse Hallström with the almost voyeuristic feel of one love scene, where the main protagonists make out behind a tree as Officer Friendly waits in the car, glimpsing flashes of movement through a side-view mirror? Or is Sparks himself being a little more risqué?

Certainly there are twists to this movie that –- though a mite heavy-handed –- function like bits of fruit or nuts in oatmeal: a flavor burst in an otherwise bland dish.

Sparks’ fans will, however, recognize and relate with his work’s main draw: two “ordinary” characters (what can be more ordinary than a waitress and a shopkeeper?) whose attraction paves the way for healing their hurts -– in this case, the shadow of spousal death and the shadow of spousal abuse.

Those who watch (and read) Sparks, know exactly what they’re getting into and that’s what they get here: affirmation, that there is that one person that will make the boo-boos go away, that love is the one safe haven to speak of, and it is possible to love even when one is lost, or to love (again) even after love was lost.

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