Director: George Tillman Jr.
Writer: Craig Bolotin, Nicholas Sparks
Top Billed: Britt Robertson, Scott Eastwood
The Nicholas Sparks movie formula for success is as follows: Start with two pretty white people. Include an obstacle that separates them making love seem impossible or unlikely. Make them fall in love anyway. Create a ridiculous and or exploitative disaster for the sole purpose of manipulating audience emotion and evoking tears. Make every single movie poster look exactly the same (fitting since they’re all basically the same movie), and laugh all the way to the bank.
Britt Robertson is Sophia, a sorority sister, and art aficionado destined for great things. Scott Eastwood is Luke Collins, an underwear model that we are supposed to believe is a bull riding rancher. The unlikely pairing meet cute, when one of Sophia’s sorority sisters drags her to a local rodeo to, and I quote, “watch hot cowboys.” It seemed love at first sight when the two locked eyes. Luke asks Sophia out and on the very first date they rescue old man Ira (Alan Alda). From there the lives of the blossoming couple intertwine with him as he reflects on his former love.
The aptly titled The Longest Ride, is the latest film adaptation for the popular writer Nicholas Sparks. These films have almost entered into their own genre, an ecosystem of formulaic plot devices meant to manipulate audiences into buying the faux love stories put before them. While no characters have overlapped in any of the books or films, it’s almost like a shared universe separate from the real world, where all love must be tested by some strange unfathomable event. While the similarities are difficult to avoid, and more difficult to not poke fun at, The Longest Ride is far from the worst Nicholas Sparks adaptation, and is actually one of the most competent. A far cry from the mystery shrouded Safe Haven, the awkward melodrama of The Best of Me, and much better than the pouty and brooding The Lucky one.
The biggest descent from the former Sparks films, is that The Longest Ride has two, yes count em’, two running love stories packed into one manipulative film. There is “plot A” involving Sophia and Luke, and “plot B” involving Ira and Ruth (Oona Chaplin). Like most other Sparks films however, the story conveniently connects the two arcs, which are surprisingly similar, using sloppy poorly written plot devices. In the parallel dimension that these movies seem to reside in their will always be some glamorous plot device that is just too convenient and lacks all subtlety.
The best moments come in the flashbacks, or in the aforementioned “plot B.” Ira reflects and shares his story with Sophia, allowing us to get a glimpse of his former life with Ruth. Young Ira played by Jack Huston, is a shy young man who falls for a beautiful young woman. While the arc here in “plot B” is clunky, poorly written, and one dimensional, the two stars somehow make it work. There is chemistry, making the flashbacks a highlight. Huston is a bit misused, but makes the most of his role with body language and facial subtlety. Oona is also enjoyable to watch, with charisma and charm she finds a way to cut through the simple and goofy dialogue. The dynamic is given life by a pair of exceptional performances.
The most Sparksian of lessons takes center stage, and it’s all about romantic sacrifice. Ruth and Ira’s story, and what they had to give up to find happiness, is predictably (and conveniently) relevant to Sophia and Luke’s story. As per usual there are obstacles and compromises, but the films most emotional moment has little to do with the paint by numbers romance, and more to do with an extraneous character. Too many things fit too perfectly into little plot device boxes. Sparks films are too often narratively dependant on the not so subtle nuances put in place to keep the story afloat.
Robertson and Eastwood just don’t seem to cut it. The two look great, they are both otherworldly attractive (Eastwood looks like the lovechild of his father Clint, and Zac Efron), but they are also both not very good in this movie. When the duo is juxtaposed against their reflective past couple in Huston and Chaplin, it becomes clear that the kids just don’t quite have that chemistry, making for some of their dialogue to feel forced and overly silly. The script offered no solace for these two poor souls, making it more difficult to present a decent bit of even forced chemistry. The good news is they still looked really good standing next to each other.
Make no mistake The Longest Ride is by no means a great movie, but in contrast it is actually a decent Nicholas Sparks movie. If left strictly in that universe it would be deserving of praise, but we live in this world so this movie just isn’t all that good. It is overly predictable, formulaic, and pretty boring. The film is also manipulative and exploitative of it’s tragedies to a distracting degree. As in all Sparksian films there is a contrived plot twist, but it is of course rather benign and of Scooby-Doo quality. The film is long, dull, and a bit dumb at times, but it’s bolstered by the performances of and chemistry between Chaplin and Huston. The biggest misstep is that those two didn’t receive more screen time.
2/5 Do Better Bro