Guys, run for your lives! “The Longest Ride” is the film adaptation of yet another Nicholas Sparks’ novel (his tenth). Women anxiously await each new “weepy” romance, while guys shiver at the thought of watching “The Notebook” on Valentine’s Day. Unlike the profound “Furious 7,” these stories are absurd and contrived; are we right guys?
Okay, maybe it’s acceptable to suspend some belief if the story is of interest. Sparks keeps his dependable theme, but fortunately makes an attempt to bring the men-folk as well as an older generation into the mix. Director George Tillman Jr. (“Men of Honor”) instills a high quality to the overall production so you never suspect for a second that this is another lightweight Matthew McConaughey/Kate Hudson romcom.
We had a pretty good idea this was going to be about romance, but at least this one starts with champion bull rider Luke Collins getting his oil checked by a pointy-horned brahma. Hunky Luke is credibly played by Scott Eastwood, son of the legendary Clint Eastwood. Luke’s soon-to-be soul mate (spoiler alert), Sophia Danko, is a Wake Forest art major, so it seems unlikely these two will ever have much in common.
We’re to believe it’s love at first sight, but it took the entire two-plus hours to see sparks fly. Credit to the spunky Britt Robertson, already an accomplished actress at 25, who eventually convinces us enough to make it work. Sure, they’ll have the requisite candle-lit dinner by the lake, but Canyon Lakers have that all the time.
Their lives change and the movie gets going when they save an elderly man from a burning car. The initially grumpy old man, Ira Levinson (Alan Alda), tells them stories, via love letters found in the car, about his decades-long relationship with his now deceased wife, Ruth. Seeing some parallels in their budding relationship, Sophia hangs on every word and Ira begins to soften his calloused exterior.
Telling the story that starts in 1940, we see a teenage Ira, played by Jack Huston, grandson of Hollywood icon John Huston and nephew to Angelica Huston. Ira falls for Ruth, whose family recently was forced to migrate from Vienna, due to the Anschluss. The spirited Ruth is delightfully played by Oona Chaplin, granddaughter of silent film star Charlie Chaplin, and great-granddaughter of American playwright Eugene O’Neill.
Sophia, the Jersey girl who had accepted an art internship in New York, wonders how they could co-exist with such disparate lives. She had initially only wanted a fling with a cowboy. But, as they get more serious and Luke progresses in the toughest sport on dirt, she knows that it’s not IF a bull rider gets hurt, but when and how badly.
Throughout the remainder of the film, the stories of both sets of couples evolve until we begin to see parallels in their lives, even though they are generations apart. With an unexpectedly fascinating storyline and healthy dose of expected schmaltz, their lives explore the challenges, sacrifices and long-term rewards of a loving relationship.
Sparks knows that romance looks better in past tense. With few plot twists, we will know most of the storyline the moment that first letter is opened. Weepy moments are fewer than expected, and the sweetness doesn’t induce the anticipated saccharine poisoning.
“The Longest Ride” is 139 minutes (longest Sparks film yet) and rated PG-13 for sexuality, partial nudity, war and sports action. For some, this movie can be considered long, dull and formulaic, but this isn’t Sparks’ first rodeo. This one is more inclusive, more interesting and less schmaltzy than his prior works. It just might be his best yet.
There’s not much reality in these love lives, but people go to Sparks’ movies for fantasies that warm their hearts with chicken soup for their romantic souls. Filmed with the lush North Carolina landscapes as a backdrop, Nick’s a little bit country and Sophia’s a little bit rock and roll. The moral of the story is that all is fair in love and noir.
Ron’s Rating: B Leigh’s Rating: B+