By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
This latest adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel (with the same title) features a somewhat intriguing subplot that actually outshines what is supposed to be the main plot of the story. The subplot involving a past romance actually feels a bit more like the compelling romance in Sparks’ celebrated novel The Notebook. Still, it never quite achieves that same level of romance, but at least The Longest Ride has this going for it. Several of Sparks’ recent adaptations feel rather cookie-cutter similar and have a lot of the usual tropes and cliches. I can’t say this film is truly worthy of pricey cinema tickets, but one could definitely do a lot worse.
Scott Eastwood stars as Luke Collins, a professional bull rider attempting to salvage his career after a serious injury. At one of his competitions, Luke meets Sophia Danko (Britt Robertson), a sweet and lovely college student who wishes to pursue an art career in New York. Their fateful meeting and subsequent romance gets an additional spark when the two meet Ira Levinson (Alan Alda), a sad and lonely elderly man who shares the story about the romance in his past and how it forever changed the rest of his life. As Ira shares not only the sweet moments of his romance with Ruth (Oona Chaplin), he also shares stories about the heartbreak the two would experience. This more poignant part of Ira’s love story parallels the problem facing S0phia and Luke.
Written by Craig Bolotin and directed by George Tillman, The Longest Ride is actually tolerable and watchable because of the Ira/Ruth love story. Though not quite as powerful as the romance in The Notebook, the tale makes for some mostly captivating moments in the film. This subplot does have a rather weak and not-so-satisfying conclusion, but for most of its run, I have to say that I was intrigued. As for the main plot involving the bull rider and his lovely artist girlfriend, I just really could not get into their story.
The parts of the film involving their courtship does have its charming moments, but once the romance and problems enter, it lost me. I honestly could not buy into that relationship working. The differences between these people would most definitely cause a real relationship to fall apart. I could buy the two finding each other attractive on a physical level, but I couldn’t really see them lasting. The conflict that does develop in the story comes across as silly, childish, and not all that riveting. When it comes to this love story, the conflict plays out melodramatically and has a ridiculously sappy resolution. Everything in the end plays out too conveniently and this frustrated me to no end.
Eastwood and Robertson offer descent performances, but never really elevate the weak material. The exceptional acting comes out of the superior subplot of the movie. Alan Alda really shines as the sad and tired Ira Levinson. The actor who portrays the younger version of Ira, Jack Huston, also demands some acclaim. The lovely Oona Chaplin wonderfully portrays Ira’s love Ruth in such a way that one can easily see why he falls in love with her.
As far as the direction goes, George Tillman, Jr. and his crew do offer some exceptional work in presenting the bull riding sequences. On the other hand, they also offer some silly and laughable shots intended to offer dramatic and powerful imagery. I suppose this is to be expected from the usual Nicholas Sparks adaptation. Melodrama, silliness, and romance seem to go hand-in-hand in his world. The Longest Ride is obviously not the best Sparks movie, but it is definitely not the worst. It should make for a watchable date film, but not necessarily one that will please everyone.