Friday, September 20, 2013

The Math Solves All The Problems in Formulaic "Safe Haven"

I watched this movie on the 9-hour plane ride from London to Minneapolis.  In my state of time confusion, "The Place Beyond the Pines" was a little too intense and deep, I'd already seen "Gatsby", and "Oblivion" didn't catch my interest.  So I tried out "Safe Haven", which I'd seen trailers for and thought "I could like this for an hour and a half."

It tells the story of Katie, a girl who flees home because of a danger we don't understand and settles in a tiny North Carolina town.  There, she makes the acquaintance of Alex, a cheery widower who runs a little shop for people taking the bus through town.  He's got two children--adorable gap-toothed Lexie and disobedient, stern Josh who misses his mom.  I bet you have no idea where this is going.  If you really don't, I'll give you a clue.

Yeah, let's just say surprise is not really a part of the story.  She ends up with the guy, big surprise, he helps her solve her problems.

The first line that stuck out to me was a transaction.  She comes to his little store after escaping scary-man-Dan, and she buys something, and he says "That'll be 97 cents." I wonder what on earth these days costs 97 cents!  Did he not make her pay taxes?  The reason it stuck out to me is, because, like the rest of the movie, it was too easy.  The math works out.  You only have to pay three cents in change.  I was struck by this when she came again to get groceries, and he said "That'll be 18 even.  Out of 20?" Once again, two bucks change.  Let alone the romance, I just can't believe that all that food is this cheap.

"Safe Haven" falls into a genre of movies where unchallenged audience members watch people in an almost-perfect situation find their way into a basically-perfect situation.  What self-respecting girl doesn't want to come out of a bad breakup with the wrong guy and immediately encounter a selfless, gentle, normal guy who will take care of her come hell or high water?  And what self-respecting small-town convenience store widower doesn't want some humble, beautiful girl to come along, revitalize your life with a jolt of love, and become best friends with your kids who you feel you can't raise by yourself?  There's a soothing quality to watching things work out okay.  Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel have a nice chemistry, she appears to be able to speak English and look like an absolute bombshell all the time, and he actually acts most of the time, and it's nice.

The North Carolina setting is charming and underused, and the little girl is adorable even if she is so unrealistic and perfect as to be ridiculous.  The villain is only useful for making Judd Fry jokes.  It's a shame that it's so predictable, as I found myself pausing the movie and wondering how they intended to fill in another hour and a half of it.  Luckily I had a book with me to read during the boring parts.

Still, there's something to be said for a world in which such movies exist.  Besides the mathematics of love, which abound here, another idea surfaces, that of Tribe Dynamics.  Not only is Man lacking one (1) female, Woman needs one (1) protector, and both children need one (1) mother.  The real satisfaction of this film actually doesn't come from seeing beautiful people fall in love and vicariously enjoy their emotional and physical pleasures.  It comes from watching roles be filled and a narrative of happiness take place.  That's why it's a Tribe movie--not only does Katie come to love Alex, she comes to love the city and to be a part of it in a special way.  She fills a role, many roles, and I realized watching the movie that transcending non-entity status to become something is, for many, the great relief of life.

Literary folk and critics gawk at such a base display in a film (you know, such an elevated medium with its long history of not-shallowness) and thus give it a probably deserving 13% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Still, I think it's fascinating that humans find Love to be such a big deal, as it is such an everyday feeling.  The welcome arms of acceptance and the thrill of being able to make someone else happy drive us to complete the tasks that civilization lays upon us like bricks on Egyptian slaves.  And "Safe Haven" shows a sort of naive view of how it could work, a fantasy of seeing things work out okay, and only costing 97 cents.  I guess that's the part that's naive and predictable.

You probably don't have to watch "Safe Haven".  You could watch the trailer and get most of what I got out of it.  That is, if you're human.  If you're an alien, this is a great anthropological study about some pretty basic human ideas.  And it's got pop music in the credits, if you need incentive.

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