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Family Movie Review: The Longest Ride (PG-13)

TheLongestRide ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalhalf popcorn kernal

MPAA Rating: PG-13        Length: 128 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 14+. So much sex! Lots of sex. This is a Nicholas Sparks movie, so the same elements from all of his film adaptations apply here: two or three curse words; some violence in the form of bull riding and injuries caused by it, including a concussion and some contusions (that you don’t see up-close); one scene set in the World War II trenches and some gunshot wounds; some beer drinking; and lots of kissing, a number of different sex scenes (including a longish sequence in the shower), and some implied (a woman undressing in front of a man) and shown (Eastwood’s butt) nudity.

Another in the long line of Nicholas Sparks adaptations, ‘The Longest Ride’ is fairly average. The camera loves Scott Eastwood, but the movie’s characters never quite come together.

By Roxana Hadadi

Film adaptations of Nicholas Sparks novels are, ostensibly, about both a woman and a man, but has the former ever really been the star of these things? Sparks’s particular genre of film has served as a stepping stone for actors like Channing Tatum (in “Dear John”), Ryan Gosling (in the inimitable “The Notebook”), and Zac Efron (in “The Lucky One”), but the conversations about these films are never about the female stars (in those films, they are Amanda Seyfried, Rachel McAdams, and Taylor Schilling, respectively). And so it goes again with “The Longest Ride,” a film which is so in love with star Scott Eastwood (yes, Clint’s son) that it barely gives its other lead, Britt Robertson, any attention at all.

It’s Eastwood’s face that we see first, lit beautifully and in the smack middle of the frame, inviting us to fall in love with him, and that’s basically how “The Longest Ride” goes. Although the story is split into two narratives (one in the present day, with Eastwood’s and Robertson’s characters struggling to make a relationship work, and another beginning in the 1940s, recounting how another couple fell in love), the film focuses most of its efforts on Eastwood. Granted, he’s gorgeous, and it’s uncanny how much he looks and moves like father Clint, and he has the cowboy thing down pat. But as much as he looks the part of bull-riding cowboy Luke, the character is still an underwritten, watered-down one, much like the film surrounding it.

Sparks’s stories and their movie adaptations are always centered around faux-insightful messages about love that are more obvious than enlightening, and “The Longest Ride” is no exception. It’s central argument is “love requires sacrifice,” which … duh? That’s not only an unsurprising concept for any single person who has ever been in love, but it’s also not a new idea for Sparks, either. We’re only eight months past the release of Sparks’s previous film, the James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan vehicle “The Best of Me,” and that movie could not have had more sacrifice if it tried. Central characters died! Internal organs were donated so secondary characters could live! “Love requires sacrifice” basically goes without saying.

“The Longest Ride” focuses first on the growing attraction between good North Carolina boy Luke (Eastwood, of “Chasing Mavericks”), a once-champion bull rider who is trying to come back to competition after a devastating injury that sidelined him for a year, and good New Jersey girl Sophia (Robertson, of “Delivery Man”), a senior arts major attending Wake Forest University on a scholarship. She’s so studious that her sorority sisters have to drag her away from studying to attend a bull-riding competition with them (in a sundress and cowboy boots, naturally), and it’s there that she and Luke first see each other. A nearly perfect first date follows, but Sophia doesn’t see the point in continuing things further: She’s leaving for an internship at an art gallery in New York City in two months, and the timing is wrong for starting a relationship.

But on the way back from their date, Luke and Sophia save the life of an elderly man involved in a car accident, Ira (Alan Alda, of “Wanderlust”), and collect a box from the car at his behest; inside are dozens of letters from him to his beloved wife, Ruth, and other mementos from their life together. Concerned about his health but intrigued by their story, Sophia starts a friendship with the older man, and as she learns about the Jewish couple’s courtship and marriage, so do we, with flashbacks to a younger Ira (Jack Huston, of “Not Fade Away”) and Ruth (Oona Chaplin, granddaughter of Charlie and of “What If”) as they started dating in 1940. As Sophia and Luke’s relationship seems idyllic and then suddenly collapses into itself, she turns to Ira for support and guidance—and his advice may change everything.

For the most part, Sparks’s stories are melodramatic and overstuffed, and “The Longest Ride” is a departure from that: The cast is really only Eastwood, Robertson, Alda, Huston, and Chaplin, but while that contained quality works for the latter pair’s story, it makes the former pair’s feel incomplete. The great question for Luke and Sophia is whether they can be together when they don’t really understand what the other does; she doesn’t get why he thinks he can only be a bull rider and he doesn’t get why she would want to sell overpriced, nonsensical art to wealthy idiots, but they don’t really communicate that with each other or with other characters. There are no friends to bounce their feelings off of; no siblings; only very brief scenes with Luke’s mother and nothing with Sophia’s parents. The film pairs Sophia and Ira together so that he can theoretically listen to her woes, but those portions of the film are really dedicated to flashbacks about him and Ruth, so there’s no actual devotion to what Sophia and Luke are feeling. They’re attracted to each other, they have sex, and then suddenly they’re fighting—they seem barely invested in their relationship, so why should we? (Plus, Robertson doesn’t have any material with which to make an impact, and Eastwood, while believably masculine and gentlemanly, doesn’t really need to do much emotionally here.)

What helps balance out “The Longest Ride,” though, is the grace and humbleness Alda brings to his role and the flashbacks to Huston and Chaplin. Neither of them can do a convincing accent, but they have a nice, lived-in familiarity with each other, and their affection for each other shines through even though it’s not as sexy as Luke and Sophia’s storyline. Any emotional attachment you develop during this film will be to them, even though that subplot, like so many of Sparks’s, seems to be checking off a list of tragic developments (war, devastating illnesses, marital issues, you get the drift).

There is certainly weirdness in “The Longest Ride,” specifically in the dialogue (Ruth’s character is an Austrian refugee before World War II, but no one says the word “Holocaust”; Luke has clearly experienced brain trauma, but no one says the word “concussion”; it’s like the script is playing mind games with us) and in the character development (Sophia mocks her parents’ Polish heritage and the difficulties of immigration, and doesn’t seem to understand how Google works). But for all of the film’s bland averageness, its storyline with Alda, Huston, and Chaplin is genuinely affecting, and Eastwood is one very good-looking man. Sometimes for a Nicholas Sparks movie, that’s all it takes.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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