Katie (Julianne Hough) is running from something. Saddled with a backstory that is perhaps darker than any other in the Sparks canon, her shadowed past serves as the ideal foil for sleepy Southport, the North Carolina beach hamlet where she takes refuge. Katie sets tentative roots by renting a cottage, waitressing at the local cafe, and becoming a regular at the general store. A quaint, near-ramshackle of a place that sells light groceries (and on a good day) paint, it's run by Alex, a widowed father of the hunky, aw-shucks variety whose flirting style is as awkward as Katie's is avoidant. The fledgling courtship that flowers between them is made even more fragile by Katie's secret. Idyllic walks and beach scenes continue to be undercut by Katie's flashbacks of her old life in Boston. Everything about the city is dark, right down to Katie's clothes and hair, serving as a contrast to the breezily bright and beachy Southport where she begins a new chapter. What lies in the balance is a classic tale of fate and true love. Hardly groundbreaking stuff, as Sparks-slaying critics are happy to say. But it's this homespun simplicity that makes Safe Haven so universally poignant and so human.
Indeed, it's a cold customer who doesn't eke out a tear at the end.