Sparks tale lives up to romantic promise

MOVIE REVIEW: Safe Haven, Starring Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel, Cobie Smulders; directed by Lasse Hallstrom

When it comes to movies and books, one of my guilty pleasures is anything penned by Nicholas Sparks. Synonymous with soppy romances, Sparks has been responsible for some wonderful love stories coming to the big screen, the most popular being The Notebook which is one of the few movies I believe is better than the book.

I have been impatiently waiting for the adaptation of Sparks' 2010 novel Safe Haven for a few years now, especially since casting of the two leads was announced. Julianne Hough (Rock of Ages, Footloose) plays Katie, who arrives in the coastal town of Southport to start her life again.

Katie quickly catches the eye of Alex played by Josh Duhamel (New Year's Eve, Transformers) and the two slowly but surely become closer. While Katie's past and her relationship with Alex forms the basis for the film, it is also the story of Alex and his two children Lexie and Josh who have recently lost their mother.

I am a huge fan of everything director Lasse Hallstrom has touched from the scrumptious Chocolat, to the shattering Hachi: A Dog's Tale, a movie I dare you to watch and not shed a tear. This is the second time working with Sparks to bring his stories to screen (the first was Dear John) and it has a definite Hallstrom feel and look to it.

The music and score were beautifully suited to the story and set the entire tone for Katie's new life in Southport with Alex, Lexie and Josh. Southport itself was stunning to look at with the film showing many sweeping shots of the little town.

While there were a few differences between the book and film, some of which I was at first a bit annoyed by, I came to accept that the overall story remained the same and in some cases was enhanced by the changes. A sequence which featured canyoning, a storm and a dance was one addition I was delighted to see, especially the storm, which I believe is essential to any Sparks story, often with pivotal moments taking place while the rain pours down.

Safe Haven is a wonderful film, which will tug at a few heartstrings and also the emotions of parents out there. It is beautiful to watch and has one of the hottest first kisses I've seen on the cinema screen for a while.

The Southland Times