Welcome to Niceville. Population: Handsome. Here in this mug of hot cocoa we call a town, everyone is pleasant to each other, jobs are plentiful even if you don’t have a scrap of personal identification, and every human being is white. You may recognize Niceville as the location used for Safe Haven, the new movie from Lasse Hallström that somehow comes across as more saccharine and wholesome than Chocolat. And that movie drizzled fudge on a Thanksgiving turkey.
Did you see Safe Haven? Oh, you’re going to love it. Julianne Hough stars as a woman on the run from a plot point that’s only kept secret because it doesn’t exist. It’s kind of like North By Northwest, if the big twist wasn’t “supposed” to be ridiculous. Hough dashes off to Niceville, meets a hunky guy played by Josh Duhamel, paints her floors yellow (she’s so creative) and has no emotional problems whatsoever despite a backstory that probably should, at the very least, leave her with mild scarring and a few understandable hang-ups, precluding wholesome romance for at least a couple of months or so. She’s on the run from a dangerous man, but that’s okay: there’s a new man on the horizon. He’ll make her feel whole again. It’s not like she could use a little time on her own to figure out what she really wants and reassemble some sense of identity after years of systemic abuse.
Okay, maybe you’re not going to love it. After all, this is the kind of movie where our hero’s deceased wife leaves letters for her son titled “On Your 18th Birthday” and “For Your Graduation,” and only one letter for her daughter, titled, “For Your Wedding Day.” I guess little Lexie isn’t expected to graduate. Come to think of it, when we actually do read one of those letters – and it’s not even one of the ones I just mentioned – the only mention of that little girl is about how she will (of course) inevitably get married. Marriage, it seems, is the end-all be-all of a woman's existence. Except when it’s horrifically violent, but that’s okay… It’ll just lead to a different marriage. A better marriage. Thanks, Safe Haven!
There’s a plot in this movie. Well, no, strike that. There are a couple of events here and there. Julianne Hough runs from something vague, falls in love, and then about two hours later something vague comes back, now clearly defined and offensively simplistic, so the film can escalate just enough to make sure you know that it’s almost over. Safe Haven is not about the plot. It’s about fleeing from your troubles to a new location, a “safe” “haven” if you will, enjoying the scenery, meeting an uncomplicated hunk, and enjoying the perks of motherhood with his two charming kids without going through the inconvenience of actual childbirth yourself. It’s about getting everything you want because you’re a good person, damn it. Sure, the heroine has no personality, but that's okay! That just means she's blank enough that everyone in the audience can easily draw a picture of themselves on her proverbial, curvaceous slate.
There’s nothing horribly wrong with that in principle, I suppose, although I personally object to this much casual sexism thrown around in a film supposedly made for female audiences. But it’s easy to get caught up in how nice Niceville is. It sure is pretty out there. I certainly wouldn’t mind shucking my personal responsibilities and getting myself a cabin in the woods – no, not that one – where my biggest problem was that available, flawless supermodel types gave me too many presents. But did the fantasy have to be this… dumb? Safe Haven ends with a revelation that’s only unpredictable because you couldn’t possibly be expected to believe something so outlandishly stupid could weasel its way into a straightforward Lifetime Channel melodrama. It's insulting on multiple levels. But it sure is “nice.”