As I sat through The Longest Ride, I couldn’t help but wait for some kind of potential “cowgirl position” in-joke. Unfortunately, that joke never came, even though the hilarious scene in which Luke, the beefy cowboy that rides bulls for a living, trains Sophie, the art loving city girl, comes very close to being a double entendre in itself. No, for the majority of the running time of this new Nicholas Sparks adaptation (this is the tenth one by the way), we get a fairly straightforward love story in the spirit of the other nine that came before it, only this time, we get a nice little shakeup in the realm of storytelling.
At the center of the story are Sophia and Luke, two young souls from completely different worlds. Sophia is a city girl, artistic and fashionable. Luke is a country boy, a professional bull rider who rocks a cowboy hat like none other. The two meet, and of course they fall in love. After stumbling upon a car crash just in time, Luke pulls the driver to safety. At the driver’s request, she pulls a box from his front floorboard. At the hospital, she opens the box, discovers notes, and reads one. The elderly gentleman has a story, and it, of course, involves a girl.
This is where The Longest Ride stands out from the crowded Nicholas Sparks genre (yes, his novels have molded a new genre). It tries to do something different, this being the first time that one of the films spends the entire running time shifting back and forth between narratives. The central story takes place in the present, with Sophia and Luke struggling to make their separate worlds mesh, with each trying to fit into the other’s lifestyle and environment. At the same time, Sophia develops a bond with Ira (the elderly man), frequently visiting him in the hospital, reading the letters inside the box to him aloud after he reveals that he hasn’t been able to read them due to poor eyesight.
The film takes the cowboy/city girl dynamic, places it to the side (but not on the backburner), and allows Ira’s story to play out in good time. It goes without saying that the stuff with Ira’s history and his falling for Ruth (the girl from his letters) is the best the movie has to offer. But then again, I don’t want to make it sound like the movie sucks when it isn’t focusing on Ira. To my surprise, this film really isn’t half bad. Then again, that may only be because I was comparing it to The Last Song and Dear John the entire time.
But really, I enjoyed this movie from start to finish… all 138 minutes of it, which must be addressed right off the bat. Although entertaining from beginning to end, the film is just way too long. They could have easily cut a half hour or more out and it wouldn’t have taken much away. But the stars give enough to make the viewing more than a squirm-in-your-seat-and-pray-for-the-ending experience. Britt Robertson (she’ll be the lead in Brad Bird’s upcoming Tomorrowland) is excellent in this movie, giving a strong lead performance that promises talent. Scott Eastwood (Clint’s son) is also good, giving an actual performance with actual emotion that goes beyond simply flexing his muscles for the camera. Alan Alda hits some emotional notes as old Ira and it was definitely nice to see Boardwalk Empire’s Jack Huston as young Ira.
Director George Tillman Jr. (Notorious) doesn’t offer much in the realm of direction, but the movie does look nice on a consistent basis. Overall, The Longest Ride is made with more talent than your average Nicholas Sparks production, and it isn’t as sappy or melodramatic as the ones that have come before it. It’s far from great (miles and miles away), but it’s fun. I liked it, but I’m sure that the target audience doesn’t care if I did or not. They’ll pay to see it regardless, so I’m shutting up now.
2 hrs. 18 mins.
PG-13 for for some sexuality, partial nudity, and some war and sports action
Starring Britt Robertson, Scott Eastwood, Alan Alda, Jack Huston
Written by Craig Bolotin
Directed by George Tillman Jr.