Directed by: George Tillman Jr.
Premise: Based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks. A metropolitan art student (Britt Robertson) begins a romance with a bull rider (Scott Eastwood) despite their careers pulling them in opposite directions. At the same time they meet an elderly widower (Alan Alda) and learn the story of his marriage through an archive of love letters.
What Works: Nicholas Sparks’ novels have been the source of a lot of movies. Some have been better than others but with The Best of Me and Safe Haven the Sparks formula hit the skids. The Longest Ride is yet another film adapted from a Nicholas Sparks novel but this one does enough that is new or different to distinguish it from the author’s other titles and it ought to appeal to a broader audience while retaining the core formula sought by Sparks’ diehard fans. Romantic movies succeed or fail depending on the likability of the couple; the audience has to want to see them get together. The Longest Ride has two couples and they are both successful at that. In the present, a cowboy played by Scott Eastwood meets a college student played by Britt Robertson and the two of them begin an unlikely romance complicated by their diverging careers. In the past is a relationship between a shopkeeper played by Jack Huston and an art savvy immigrant played by Oona Chaplin. The crosscutting of the two narratives works sufficiently well; the stories parallel each other but not to a hammy or contrived degree. Both Eastwood and Robertson and Huston and Chaplin have an appealing rapport with each other and the filmmakers indulge some of the Nicholas Sparks touchstones (passionate kissing in the rain, etc.) without it feeling too cliché. The women of The Longest Ride also have a little more backbone and possess more intellectual and emotional sophistication than the characters of other Sparks films. It’s also worth mentioning that The Longest Ride is a little better made than the average Nicholas Sparks adaptation. The country settings and young bodies are sensuously photographed and the rodeo sequences are particularly well done with some dramatic lighting and effective use of slow motion.
What Doesn’t: There is no getting around the fact that The Longest Ride is a Nicholas Sparks adaptation and one of the consistent faults of Sparks’ stories is that he confuses being a jerk with being emotionally vulnerable. In The Longest Ride that flaw manifests itself in the bull rider played by Scott Eastwood. The problems aren’t the fault of the actor; Eastwood does a fine job with the role. Rather, it’s the choices that the character makes that are problematic. This is most apparent in a critical scene in which the cowboy visits an art gallery where his girlfriend is overseeing a show. As a blue collar laborer with no education or eye for art, he does not get what people see in modern paintings. That’s fair enough, but he insults the work in front of his girlfriend’s boss and he demeans the thing that she is most passionate about. In this moment he comes across as an ignorant hick instead of a sensitive good ole boy. He’s also a bit of an ass about his job. Eastwood’s character is a bull rider and if he keeps riding it will kill him but he’s determined to do it anyway regardless of the advice of his doctors and his girlfriend. That, on top of his antics at the gallery, make him a stupid and selfish person and it soils the viewer’s desire to see him get together with his love interest. The conclusion of The Longest Ride is its weakest point. The story is built on either this city girl or her country boy giving up their dreams in order to live happily ever after. This gets resolved through a stupid deus ex machina resolution that cops out of the issue and gives everyone what they want with no sacrifices.
Bottom Line: Despite its problems, The Longest Ride is one of the better Nicholas Sparks adaptations to come along in a while. The film will satisfy its core audience and it manages to be sufficiently engaging enough to win over general audiences.
Episode: #538 (April 19, 2015)