Review: The Longest Ride

At this point, Nicholas Sparks’ movies are as formulaic as The Fast and Furious movies. It’s not just the posters (two people uncomfortably close to each other) that make his movies feel identical. The plots for his movies are almost the same as well.

Let’s run his latest film, The Longest Ride, through the Nicholas Sparks Checklist:

  1. Does the movie take place in The South? – The story takes place in North Carolina
  2. Is there a scene(s) near water? – We get a lakeside date in the first 20 minutes
  3. Does a character have a secret? – Our cowboy is hiding a severe bull riding injury
  4. Is the male love interest classically handsome and unrealistically perfect? – Duh
  5. Do people fall in love at light speed?  – Yep!
  6. Is there perfectly timed rain? – It’s always on time to punctuate any sad/happy moment.
  7. Does someone die?  – Of course someone dies.  Of course

The Longest Ride opens with Luke Collins (Scott Eastwood) suffering a brutal bull riding accident. One year later, Luke is back riding and in the stands is Sophia (Britt Robertson). When Luke’s hat gets lost in the stands, Sophia goes to return it and the two lovebirds meet. On their first date Sophia informs Luke she was hesitant to go on the date because she plans on taking a job in New York after she graduates in two months. Way to cast a somber shadow on the date Sophia!

On the ride home, Luke spots an accident (through the perfectly timed rain) on the side of the road. As he rescues the man from his burning car, Sophia retrieves a box full of letters and photos that were left in the man’s front seat. Sophia and Luke part ways at the hospital but Sophia stays with the unnamed elderly man. She finds out that man is Ira Levinson (Alan Alda) and the box she saved contained old letters he wrote to his wife. In an attempt to get Ira to eat, Sophia reads him the letters he once wrote.

The two lovebirds are brought back together when Luke returns to the hospital with a picture that fell out of Ira’s box. Luke and Sophia instantly reconnect (light speed love) and begin a series of the most romantic dates imaginable. It’s hard for her to resist Luke’s All-American charm (classically handsome and unrealistically perfect). Luke cuts wood, has southern charm, plans perfect dates, saves lives, loves his mother, and is surprisingly single. He’s everything a city girl wants.

Like all Nicholas Spark’s movies, this perfect couple has problems. Luke continues to bull ride despite his serious undisclosed injury (the secret). Sophia’s big dilemma is the job waiting for her in New York after graduation. Despite the perfect man staring Sophia right in the face, she’s willing to move to New York and spend hours on Tinder trying to find a date.

When Sophia and Luke aren’t suffocating each other with love, The Longest Ride tells a delightful back story, and that’s when the movie is at its best. The story is courtesy of Ira’s letters to his wife. The box of letters tell a beautiful tale about young Ira’s (Boardwalk Empire’s Jack Huston) loving relationship with his wife Ruth (Oona Chaplin) that spanned decades.  To no surprise, their story is a lot more touching than the Abercrombie couple and their first world problems.

The biggest benefit Ira and Ruth’s love story has is the superb acting from Jack Huston and Oona Chaplin. Fans of Boardwalk Empire remember Jack as the complex war hero/hitman Richard Harrow. Huston brings the same level of emotion, angst, and devotion from Boardwalk Empire to his role as Ira. His performance is only matched by Chaplin who wears every emotion on her face. You can almost hear the desperation Ruth feels when you look into Chaplin’s eyes. The Longest Ride feels like a completely different movie when those two are onscreen. It’s sad these two great actors gave juggernaut performances in film most people will forget.

That isn’t to say Britt Robertson and Scott Eastwood are horrible, they just don’t have any chemistry together. Eastwood does a lot of squint-staring and Robertson does a lot of whisper talking. I don’t know if that’s supposed to convey love between the two but it’s more of an annoyance than anything.

Although most of the movie is disposable, there are a few good things buried in it. Ira gives a great speech about love where he says, “Love requires sacrifice, always”. Young Ira and Young Ruth save the movie from being a bloated carbon copy of Sparks’ other films. If they sold a cut of the film with just Ira’s story, I’d buy it. This is reminiscent of 2012’s The Words – a remarkable tale of true love sandwiched between a lackluster love story. Not to be overshadowed is Alan Alda who is fantastic. He’s not just the film’s funnyman; he’s the emotional bridge between the old love story and the new one.

I don’t know much about bull riding, but the film’s bull riding scenes are surprisingly entertaining. Some of the scenes were scary and intense. I never knew bulls could be that terrifying.

Much like the Fast and Furious franchise, The Longest Ride gives Nicholas Sparks’ fans exactly what they are looking for. Exactly. The movie checks everything on his checklist and some things more than once. It’s funny how Sparks’ movies mirror the Fast franchise all the way down to the ridiculously over-the-top finale. The biggest criticism fans will have is maybe the runtime (139 min) feels 20 minutes too long. Other than that, bring your cowboy boots and bring your tissues.

Grade: C