Let's say you're the kind of person who reads books that are for sale at airports (not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just that you're never going to get around to A Mencken Chrestomathy that way). Then you might already know the big secret of Nicholas Sparks' novel, Safe Haven. Never having read one of his books, I didn't and won't be giving away that big, goofy, WTF secret here.
I have, however, seen all the film adaptations of his work and have come to understand how he navigates his characters through space to pure, cozy, sun-dappled love. I've learned that his women are lonely or separated from the man they love or in need of a guy to teach them to love again or resisting the love of the man who will guide them through a difficult time or falling into the arms of the last decent man who will shelter them from an evil, hotheaded, often abusive or controlling ex. And most importantly, I've learned that people write a lot of plot-altering, revelatory letters. That's nice. Letter-writing is very old-fashioned and everybody likes getting them in the mail except for two niche groups: very young people who don't understand the concept of holding a physical copy of a piece of personal communication in their hand and Ayn Rand followers who think the U.S. Postal Service is socialism. Everybody else loves letters, especially the kind that include earthshaking emotions and secrets unearthed. And that's why people love Nicholas Sparks. I think.
Anyway, letters figure into this story, too, but on the periphery, coming into play when that big secret is revealed. But before those letters make you go, "OHHHH," you're treated to nearly two full hours of blandly good looking folks performing now-patented Sparksian love-moves, such as being rained upon romantically and reading weather-beaten copies of old seafarer's guides. One of them is Josh Duhamel, who smiles warmly and never offends anyone. The other is Julianne Hough, a sweet-faced Aniston Jr. minus the magnetism but who, again, isn't going to make any enemies any time soon. She lands in his sleepy seaside town, on the run from danger, settling in a tiny cabin in the woods so nobody can find her. He's that most attractive kind of heterosexual man, a widower, and within minutes they're having a pheromone party. The danger shows up to find her and then there's stalking and a confrontation and a rescue and a letter and... well, you know, even if you don't know.
These films, both the good and the ungood, move people around like board game pieces until the required weepy finale. All of them are more or less competently made, but the good ones really stick the knife in and wring the cry out of you. Is this a good one? Well, it's no The Notebook, I know that. That's the gold standard for this sort of thing. Why don't we say it's definitely another one of them, this week's installment. I didn't cry, but my movie-cry meter is more often pushed into the red by war horses and estranged mixed martial arts brothers battling each other in common resentment of an alcoholic Nick Nolte than it is by revelatory love letters. Your mileage will vary. And it will be measured on the odometer of the leading man's vintage pick-up truck.