Note: this review is featured on the Phoenix Film Festival’s website.
The Longest Ride is, indeed, a long ride, lasting over two hours and spanning over 70 years in narrative time. It’s an overly familiar, highly derivative, and predictably overblown romance. The story follows two different romances spanning multiple generations, a storyline that should feel familiar to anyone that knows a Nicholas Sparks novel. His books are much the same every time they are adapted to film form; I’m starting to grow concerned as to whether The Notebook is actually a great romance or if its surprising lead actors made the film feel more unique than it actually was. Nonetheless, Sparks’ latest film adaptations, including the gloriously nonsensical The Lucky One, have the emotional sense of a stunted teenager, making their dialogue increasingly dumbfounding in just how little they understand about human interaction. That concept grows tired here as the story falls into self-seriousness and genuinely believes it’s a worthwhile love story, feeling like another unnecessary romance without anything of substance to say.
The story follows a fledgling young couple, including Sophia (Britt Robertson), a fraternity girl that has an internship lined up after college at an art gallery in New York. It’s what she’s been wanting to do for her whole life, ever since her immigrant family (yes, this blonde art student with an American accent has lived through the difficulties of an immigrant life, so her struggle is real) moved to the United States when she was a kid. She meets a young bull rider named Luke (Scott Eastwood), a rambunctious sort that wants to be the best of his kind in the world but has to deal with a potentially life-threatening injury. His return from that harrowing incident a year later leads to the two love birds finding each other, and their story crosses the path of a dying war veteran, Ira (Alan Alda). Ira tells the lovers a story of his younger self (played by Boardwalk Empire‘s Jack Huston) falling in love with Jewish immigrant Ruth (Oona Chaplin), and their story as he returns from World War II and must deal with his presumed PTSD and her obsession with art and wanting a family. The stories are simplistic and straightforward, without much time to catch one’s breath in between jumps in time.
Look, every audience member knows what they are seeing when they step into a Nicholas Sparks film. It’s the same type of romance, spanning multiple generations, usually, and involving some type of ailment/disease that causes a main character to die. Yet they continue to sell because they are often filled with breakthrough performances from the leads. While Robertson and Eastwood are not remarkable actors, they infuse the roles with life and compassion, even if they sometimes feel like they are delivering lines like robots attempting to feel for the first time. Director George Tillman Jr. does not add to or take away from the film; one can only do so much with an incompetent script. There’s no semblance of a grander story at stake, nor is there a strong driving force behind the battle of the two lead lovers, particularly as it becomes apparent that they will find a happy ending even if their stubbornness should not warrant such a result. Perhaps surprisingly, despite their stubbornness, the characters are ultimately good people, which makes discrediting the film all the more challenging. The story, though, feels like a poorly woven retelling of Sparks’ other better works, forcing the 128-minute ride to end with a thud on the ground.
Grade: ★★ (out of 5)