The Longest Ride is Two Movies at the Expense of One
The Longest Ride
Directed by: George Tillman, Jr.
Screenplay by: Craig Bolotin
Based on: The Longest Ride by Nicholas Sparks
Starring: Britt Robertson, Scott Eastwood, Jack Huston, Oona Chaplin, Alan Alda, Melissa Benoist, Lolita Davidovich
Running time: 128 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some sexuality, partial nudity, and some sports action
The Longest Ride was true to its name, it was a very long ride only to end with a halfway decent, only half-developed story. This is due to the dual storylines, which only have the vaguest of intersections. The biggest problem with this is the fact that the more interesting story was not the primary story. I’m not sure if I should blame the screenwriter, or author for that, or if I should hold them both responsible for failing to recognize which was the more compelling story. Honestly, I cannot express how exasperating it was to watch this. It was akin to watching The A-Team as a kid and your parents switching over to the news every few minutes. The stories I’m referring to were Ira/Ruth and Luke/Sophia, with Ira and Ruth being the good story, and Luke and Sophia being the dull and lifeless story. The way it was written it appears that the Ira/Ruth story is meant to show Luke/Sophia that they can overcome the obstacles in their relationship. Unfortunately due to the vast differences in the obstacles both relationships are forced to tackle, Luke and Sophia’s problems end up looking petty mostly self-imposed. This, along with the one-dimensional characters of Luke and Sophia, makes for an incredibly frustrating viewing experience, which is likely only to be satisfying to the youngest in the audience that has yet to fully understand the complexities of real world complications in real relationships.
Luke (Scott Eastwood) is a professional cow rider from North Carolina who was about to become the best cow rider in the world when the cow disagreed and he suffered a traumatic head injury sidelining his career for a year. Sophia (Britt Robertson) is an art student at Wake Forest University from Rutherford New Jersey, in her senior year with an internship already lined up in New York City. Sophia meets Luke when she is reluctantly dragged to a professional bull riding competition to leer at the cowboys. After this meeting, Sophia finally agrees to a date with Luke, it apparently goes very well in spite of her reluctance to enter into a relationship before she has to move to New York. On the way home from their date they come across a broken guardrail and find Ira Levenson (Alan Alda) inside his burning car. Luke pulls Ira out of the car, Sophia rescues a box—containing decade’s worth of letters. At the hospital, Luke and Sophia go their separate ways, and Sophia stays behind and offers to read the letters to Ira. The letters chronicle Ira (Jack Huston) meeting Ruth (Oona Chaplin), a Jewish refuge from war torn Europe, and their courtship and eventual engagement, through Ira leaving to fight in the war (that is WWII for anyone curious). Meanwhile Sophia and Luke pine for each other, and inevitably form a relationship where they try to find common ground.
I’ll get these few things out of the way first; these are things that bothered me about this film or these characters. This film, and to an extent all the films in the Nicholas Sparks franchise, are sexist to both men and women. Men are treated as objects, and women are portrayed as vapidly infatuated with the object of their affections. Sophia is supposedly from Rutherford New Jersey, I know this area well, I know the people from this area well, Sophia does not talk like or act like someone that has even visited Rutherford New Jersey. Luke suffered a traumatic brain injury at the beginning of the film, the fact that he has this brain injury but is only affected by it when it is convenient does not serve to highlight the severity of the condition that can cause dramatic changes to behavior and personality. Most notably individuals with these conditions have difficulty managing emotional responses, and Luke displays the emotional range of the cows he rides. Ira and Ruth do not encounter any level of anti-Semitism in North Carolina in 1940. The closest they get is a throwaway line about Ira and Ruth having great difficulty adopting a child. Why they cannot adopt is never shown or discussed, thus we must speculate, and speculation is unsatisfying. Finally, Ira and Ruth are by far more interesting than Luke and Sophia.
The Ira and Ruth story is very good, but underdeveloped. This story has more than enough weight to carry a film of its own, and that film would be infinitely more interesting than the Luke and Sophia sap fest. To speak honestly, the lifelong relationship displayed between Ruth and Ira was complex, nuanced, and nearly brought me to tears at times. They were identifiable, and likeable. Alan Alda was fantastic, as was Jack Huston, but Huston was upstaged by Oona Chaplin who positively owned the screen in every way. I could almost recommend this film just for this story, but it is so overburdened by the inexcusably dull Luke and Sophia the ride is just too long.