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Entries in The Last Song (2)

Thursday
Feb142013

Safe Haven

There was a great article on Cracked.com a couple years back called “How to Write a Nicholas Sparks Movie.” After a quick critique of the marketing for his movies and his approach to telling his stories, it breaks down the facts:

1) Nicholas Sparks is an author who churns out about one romance novel a year.

2) All of these books are almost immediately made into movies.

3) All of these books are the same book.

Truer words have never been spoken and because of this, Nicholas Sparks stories always come with a large degree of predictability. If a film critic going to his latest book-turned-movie adaptation were to write his or her entire review before seeing the film, roughly 90% of it would be accurate. For years, Sparks has been telling the exact same story, repackaging them with a new disease or tragedy and puking them out to the public. Such monotony means that his movies are largely dependent on the strength of the main characters and the chemistry they create onscreen.

More often than not, the leads aren’t up to the task, but Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough in this week’s Safe Haven are different. Their relationship rings true and actually works, despite the cheese they’re forced to work with. Katie (Hough) is on the run from a police officer that is hot on her trail for unknown reasons. She eventually lands in a small town in North Carolina where she meets widower Alex (Duhamel). She’s initially reluctant to pursue his advances, but his charm eventually wins her over and they begin seeing each other.

For the first time, at least as far as his movie adaptations go, Sparks switches it up. Safe Haven isn’t a straight forward romance, though it of course features all of the Sparks gooeyness we’ve come to expect. It’s actually somewhat of a romantic thriller and is amped up with a mystery. Kudos must be given to him for mixing his all-too-familiar formula up a bit, but unfortunately, the film suffers from terrible timing. In any other circumstance, such a change would be welcome, but because the leads are so good together here, the movie, ironically enough, works best as an aforementioned straight forward romance. It’s in the thriller elements that the film ultimately fails.

Just as Katie is adjusting happily to her new life, that cop tracks her down and the chase is on. What follows is a twist of Lifetime movie proportions, where the man’s role of keeper-of-the-peace turns to something more sinister. At this point, the dialogue gets hammier, the music gets more manipulative and the scenarios become more clichéd. It gets so ludicrous, it begins to feel like the film has somehow transitioned to a daytime soap opera. This feeling is only enhanced once another, final twist rears its ugly head. Although obvious in retrospect due to its none-too-subtle foreshadowing, it’s handled so clumsily and fits the context of the story so poorly that it’s difficult to predict. Frankly, Sparks is such a simplistic writer, even the most discernible viewer will refuse to give him enough credit to pull such a silly, out-of-left-field move.

It’s a conflicting feeling as a film critic who has sat through each and every Sparks movie. I’ve begged for Sparks to do something different for years and now that he finally has, the result is shoddy at best. Josh Duhamel is one of the few leading romance men who is charming and, despite his looks, can come off as vulnerable and Julianne Hough compliments him perfectly with her own beauty and vulnerability (the latter of which is brought out more by her above average performance than the writing that gives her character that trait). Dumping them in an inane thriller was the wrong way to go. What Safe Haven proves beyond a shadow of a doubt is that thrillers aren’t Nicholas Sparks’ strong suit. Then again, neither are romances. With any luck, he’ll stop writing both and we won’t have to sit through any more of these movies.

Safe Haven receives 2/5

Thursday
Apr012010

The Last Song

If you're like me, a lot of movies have lost their zest to you. After seeing and writing about hundreds of films on this website, I've gotten to the point where the majority of films are so predictable I could tell you what happens in them scene by scene based soley off the trailer. They all follow a formula set by the dozens and dozens of precedents before them. Nicholas Sparks book adaptations are perhaps the easiest to decipher. If you've seen The Notebook, A Walk to Remember, Nights in Rodanthe or the recent Dear John, you're familiar with the endings. As I watched his latest, Miley Cyrus helmed feature, The Last Song, I couldn't help but continually ask myself: who's going to die in this one?

Cyrus plays Ronnie Miller, a rebellious teen on her way down south to live with her father, Steve, played by Greg Kinnear, for the summer. She's a hardened person, already convicted of shoplifting, and she has a "down with authority" attitude. You can tell because she has a nose stud and wears leather boots. Watch out Lindsay Lohan! You may have some competition.

Ronnie has a little brother named Jonah, played by Bobby Coleman, who is accompanying her on her stay. While he is excited to see his father, a person he has spent little time with since the divorce, she can't wait to go home. She hates her dad because he left her, but while there she meets a strapping young lad named Will Blakelee, played by Liam Hemsworth, who starts to turn her world around. Through him, she becomes happier and starts to reconnect with her father, but with only the summer to spend there, will she be able to find true happiness?

If you take the time to really think about what happens at the end of these movies, you'll realize that all of them, with the exception of The Notebook, end without the relationship lasting. It almost seems like Sparks is a jaded lover, pessimistic from bad experiences brought on by past flings.

Without saying how, The Last Song ends in a decidedly different way, not closing the book on the story for good, but rather implying future events. While it may not reach the height of The Notebook (and is barely recommendable by any standard of quality filmmaking), it's a sweet story with an ending that really works, sans the cheese.

The biggest problem with Sparks' book-to-movie adaptations is that they never know when to quit. Instead of letting the emotion pour through naturally, they shove it in your face and try to force you to feel sadness. This is no deviation. I cared about all of these characters. Their performances were good and their chemistry was excellent. Cyrus and Hemsworth seem like naturals together (as they should since they are dating in actuality) and the father/son relationship between Greg Kinnear and little Bobby Coleman is as precious as can be. When tragedy struck (as was inevitable), I cared. I didn't want the events to play out this way. The movie had done its job. It had me in its grasp, so why so maudlin? Why take the emotion you've just spent the last hour and a half building and crush it under the weight of schlocky sentimentality?

What started as a somewhat uneven, but still solid little tearjerker went the way of Nights in Rodanthe and A Walk to Remember. At the end, when I was supposed to be sad, I was fighting back laughter solely so I wouldn't ruin the experience for any of my movie going patrons who may have been tricked by its overemotional gushing.

As the credits rolled and the lights came back up, however, I still found myself content with giving it my stamp of approval. It's funny, it's sweet, it's meaningful and it goes to show that you must learn to forgive those who have hurt you before the chance passes. It's nothing special, but there's something in The Last Song that keeps its heart beating despite its problems.

The Last Song receives 2.5/5