Author Nicholas Sparks has penned some of the most memorable romantic novels of recent years with weep-alongs The Notebook and Dear John being just two titles which have had readers reaching for the nearest box of Kleenex through teary eyes… but how does his silver screen offering Safe Haven measure up to its paper-based counterpart?
Charting one woman’s quest to start afresh in the sleepy seaside town of Southport, North Carolina, Safe Haven follows the mysterious Katie as she arrives in the idyllic resort and her attempts to shield herself from any sort of friendships or relationships while recovering from a dark past.
The book has the luxury of not being constrained by typical movie run times and this shows with the film having to condense Katie’s long period of reluctance to engage in any meaningful way with widower Alex and the lengths to which she has gone to escape the dark secret from her past.
Ultimately, the film can’t measure up to the keenly crafted storyline of the book.
Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel and Cobie Smulders turn in some powerful performances here even if they are hampered by the condensed screenplay. Alex (Duhamel) and Katie (Hough) ooze chemistry while handling the originally frosty nature of their relationship with great care.
For some unknown reason however, the Hollywood execs saw fit to meddle with the characters of Alex’s children. The ‘cute as a button’ Lexie has had her name inexplicably changed from Kristen in the book and Josh’s relationship with Alex is much more frayed than the tightknit family in Sparks’s pages.
Most crucially the character of Kevin was always going to be difficult to transfer to a screenplay without the benefit of the novel’s internal monologue. However, Leslie Bohem and Dana Stevens have adapted the character well and David Lyons delivers a brilliant performance.
Sparks is infamous for his powerhouse emotional punches and littering his tales with key moments which combine for a tear-jerking finale and Safe Haven is no different.There are a number of crucial scenes in the book which don’t make it into the screen adaptation exactly as described or at all. However, director Lasse Hallström has crafted some slightly amended gems, not least in Katie’s relationships with Jo and Alex.
Although more could have been made of Sparks’s key plot twist by peppering the screenplay with allusions to the finale, Hallström handles it with panache and delivers a knockout blow as the crucial moment works those tear ducts into overdrive.
The book benefits from not being constrained and allows the characters to be developed a lot deeper despite some powerhouse performances clawing back some favour for the film.
Ultimately, the novel pips the film at the post by three points to two but the film is still sure to have Sparks fans blubbering.