Cole Clay // Film Critic
I was once told that putting yourself into a film review is a cardinal sin of writing, unless you’re Roger Ebert, of course. Anyhow, before my screening of the latest Nicholas Sparks weepie, THE LONGEST RIDE, I overheard a few critics bagging the film before it had even started.
These films aren’t meant for universal acclaim; I just have a slight suspicion many will mask their positive feelings for this film out of sheer embarrassment. It’s obvious why– simply because it’s a Nicholas Sparks adaptation, and without fail, two of the prettiest white people in North Carolina will fall in love. This is pretty standard run-of-the-mill comfort food for romance fans, but it’s heck of a lot better than the box office juggernaut FIFTY SHADES OF GREY.
Director George Tillman Jr. (NOTORIOUS) gives the pretty white people a sense of pathos that gels with the tacky romance by finding a balance that pinpoints the character moments and celebrates what Sparks fans want. I truly believe that those who are outside of the film’s demographic will be pleasantly surprised at the high level of storytelling. Granted, most of Sparks’ film adaptations have caused an endless cycle of eye rolls from yours truly, but dammit, sometimes we just gotta feel the love.
THE LONGEST RIDE is an ambitious film with a more than capable director in Tillman Jr. It focuses on the star-crossed lovers Luke Collins (Scott Eastwood, son of Clint), a professional bull rider who’s coming off a near fatal injury at the hooves of a bull named Rango. This dude is no marshmallow; he’s the kind of guy who holds doors open, wears cowboy hats and tight ass jeans that are bound to cause some crushes that last longer than 8 seconds. The character of Luke Collins is played to hone in on inherent silliness of the modern day urban cowboy (there’s a shot of Eastwood’s buttocks for all parties that may be interested). And then there’s Sophia Danko (Britt Robertson), a student at Wake Forrest that’s on the cusp of leaving NC for a lucrative art dealer internship in New York City. They meet cute at a rodeo and from that moment on their lives are changed forever (cue the violins).
The narrative intertwines with an elderly man named Ira (Alan Alda) after they save him from the burning wreckage of a car crash, along with a box full of letters and a purple heart that dates back to the 1940s. There’s a lot to take in with these interlocking plots, that are executed fluidly through flashbacks featuring a young Ira (Jack Huston, John’s grandson) and an art loving Jewish refugee named Ruth (Oona Chaplin, Charlie’s granddaughter). There’s plenty more plot to flesh out, but you get the just of what’s going on here.
We get all of the formulaic scenes of the couple consummating their relationship, and little nods, twinges and a second act falling out. All of the parallels between the two stories come to a head and are baked into tasty dish that embraces all the trappings of melodrama. Look, nobody here is saying this is a perfect film, or one that many will vie to defended, but why wouldn’t you want to exist in a world that allows two people to be unaffected by stresses and “bullspit” of the real world?
Sparks is constantly berated by legions of cynics who prefer their love stories to be a heap of cold tuna fish rather than a hot piece of cherry pie. But, in a world/industry where nihilism/post modern sensibilities rule, THE LONGEST RIDE is an anxiety free film that’s a nice departure from reality. After all, don’t we go to the movies to suspend our disbelief?
THE LONGEST RIDE opens tonight.
Our interview with Nicholas Sparks, Britt Robertson and Scott Eastwood: