The Longest Ride

Posted on April 9, 2015 at 5:53 pm

Another spring, another Nicholas Sparks movie.

I don’t mind (much) that they are so rigidly formulaic. Every one of them centers on (1) water, (2) letters, and (3) somebody dying. All genre films follow some sort of formula, and we buy tickets because we want to see what we expect to see.

Copyright 2014 Twentieth Century Fox
Copyright 2014 Twentieth Century Fox

I don’t mind (much) the paper-thin characters and corny dialog. I don’t mind the preposterous plot turns. Much. Or the soft-focus romp on the beach and the cinematography that looks like the camera lens was dipped in honey. And okay, yes, I had to pull out my handkerchief.

Here’s what I do mind: the unrelenting generic blandness of “The Longest Ride.” And what I really mind: the unrelenting length of “The Longest Ride,” which makes its title unfortunately apt.

The most interesting part of the film is that four of its stars come from legendary show business families. The movie I’d like to see is them sitting around off camera talking to each other.

Scott Eastwood, the look-alike but even handsomer son of Clint Eastwood, plays Luke, a 21st century cowboy who grew up on a ranch is making a return to a career of competitive bull-riding, following serious injuries a year before. Britt Robertson (who is pretty much the only one in the cast with no famous relatives) is Sophia, the studious art student with a prestigious internship at a New York art gallery starting in two months. They meet sorta cute when her sorority sister drags her away from her books to see the bull-riding and Luke’s hat falls more or less into her lap. Later, when he asks her on a date, she is all but unfamiliar with this quaint custom. What, you mean he wants to pick her up? And have plans? And not just text here “Wanna hang out?” Ladies, he even arrives with flowers, to the collective sighs of the entire sorority house.

But the dream date gets even better after that. Not only is the dinner another wildly romantic gesture (yes, involving a body of water — this is a very wet movie, even by Sparks standards), but Luke actually rescues an old guy from a car wreck just before it explodes in flames, thus completing the trifecta of movie-boyfriend perfection. The ladies in the audience sighed even more happily than the sorority girls. The guy he rescues turns out to be Ira (Alan Alda, son of Broadway legend Robert Alda). And, ding, ding, ding, there are letters! Sophia rescues a basket of old letters from the car just before it blows up, and when Ira starts to recover she begins to read them to him. These are letters he wrote to his beloved late wife, Ruth, even when they were actually together. Sparks really, really, really likes to get letters into the story, even if it does not make much sense. Cue the flashbacks. Sparks loooves parallel love stories.

Ira (now Jack Huston, of the multiply-Oscared Huston family) falls for Viennese immigrant Ruth (Oona Chaplin, who wins the gene pool lottery with both Charlie Chaplin and Eugene O’Neill in her family tree). The conflict they face is that she wants to have a lot of children and he is wounded in WWII risking his life to save another soldier and cannot father children. (Sparks finds a way to let us know that the problem relates to fertility only, not the Jake Barnes/Sun Also Rises problem.)

This section is mildly interesting though too reminiscent of the vastly better portrayal of the life of a marriage in the first ten minutes of “Up.”

Listening to Ira’s letters helps Sophia think about what it takes to make a relationship work, blah blah. Blah.

Oh, it’s okay. It does the job. It doesn’t kill off the wrong person like some Sparks stories or Gothika rule the ending like “Safe Haven.” It is good to see Sparks include characters who are not imaginarily typical middle-class white Christians — there’s even a consultant in Jewish culture listed in the credits. There are no obvious mistakes, but unsurprisingly the portrayal feels no more authentic than the rest of the film.

But as it drags on, it is impossible to overlook the fact that there is more of interest outside the frame than inside. Sophia’s friend Marcia (Melissa Benoist, “Whiplash,” “Danny Collins,” and the soon-to-be Supergirl) would have been much better as the lead than Robertson, whose most frequent response is a cute little laugh, with a couple of slight brow wrinkles thrown in to show concern or confusion. The briefly referenced story of Black Mountain College’s famous experiment in art is much more intriguing than Ruth’s purchases of paintings and the twist at the end, while it will not surprise most people, requires some unjustifiable misdirection.

Sparks has a formula that is safe in its predictability. There’s always a place for movies about pretty people kissing. But it is time for Sparks to try something new, and maybe time for audiences to try something new, too.

Parents should know that this film has some strong language, a WWII battle, bull-riding peril, characters injured, sad deaths, nudity and sexual situations.

Family discussion: Were you surprised at what Ira said to Ruth when she left? Was Luke’s mother right about the reasons he would not quit?

If you like this, try: “Dear John,” “The Notebook,” and “Nights in Rodanthe”

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Based on a book Romance

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