I believe I can safely say that if you want a “real life” love story, Nicholas Sparks is probably not your guy. And that’s precisely why film-goers, mostly female film-goers, love his material. THE LONGEST RIDE is yet another in the Sparks legacy of wildly improbable perfection in both his lead characters and their trajectory. It is also way too long a ride clocking in at a whopping two hours and 19 minutes. It is not that Scott Eastwood (yes, son of that Eastwood) is not adorable and relatively perfect, or that Britt Robertson is not endearing, kind and lovely. They also have some nice chemistry. It is just that the film lingers too long where it should be bucking, requires no effort on the film-goers part and leaves out important plot details as though they don’t exist.
In the most pronounced fantasy portion of the story let’s begin with the fact that Eastwood’s Luke Collins is a bull rider. Is this a career any of us can really identify with? Competitive cyclist, sure. High rise skyscraper steel I-beam welder? You bet. Hell, I’d even readily accept an Olympic bi-athlete and no one knows any of them. It’s clear that Sparks sees bull riding as romantic and macho sport, if you can call it that. I disagree, and there are mitigating factors upon which I will elaborate later. Sophia Danko (Robertson) and Luke fall deeply in love despite the fact they have wildly differing career paths, personalities and seem to be at least a good decade apart in age. Collins is also hiding his life threatening head injury from a previous encounter with a bull. Concurrently we flash back to the love story between Ira and Ruth Levinson played in the present tense by the enchanting Alan Alda, and historically by the phenomenal Jack Huston (BOARDWALK EMPIRE) and Oona Chaplin, Charlie’s granddaughter and Geraldine Chaplin’s daughter. Quite a formidable legacy there and Chaplin does a beautiful and moving turn with her role. The Levinson thread is crafted from old letters fro husband t wife and it’s a nice very quaint narrative mechanism to unfold their story. I must also mention that from certain angles it is uncanny how Eastwood has the energy and magic of his father’s looks and mojo. Not exactly a young Clint, but very close and at times I found myself suffering a bit of cognitive dissonance thinking that he should be shooting people instead of kissing them.
Of course the Levinson romance is analogous to and has valuable lessons for Luke and Sophia. There are no surprises in THE LONGEST RIDE, no guesswork or real suspense. It is completely and easily predictable at every turn, and perhaps there are viewers who want that safe experience, who do not want to be challenged or provoked. It is the film version of the all inclusive adults only resort in the Bahamas versus the stand-by red eye flight to Guatemala with a backpack and $20 in your pocket. Any touch of dramatic tension comes largely from the mysterious head injury sustained by Luke in the film’s super slow-mo opening bull riding sequence. However, we are never provided a clear explanation of specifically what the problem is, or could be, with his continued competition. He rides without a helmet of course, ’cause that’s not macho or cowboy cool. That omission is an insult to the audience’s intelligence and undermines any reality that the story could contain. Similarly we are not entirely certain of precisely why Ira Levinson is rendered sterile – a key plot factor in the movie. Oh well.
There is no real grit or complexity to the dialogue and that merely reinforces the same idyllic tranquilized course of the movie as a whole. The core actors, Eastwood, Robertson, Alda, Huston and Chaplin are all fine actors. The screenplay is the weak link, although who knows how much realism there was in the original novel for screenwriter Craig Bolotin to work with. I have never read Sparks so I can only make assumptions. And let’s remember what happens when we make assumptions. Director George Tillman, Jr. does a respectful job keeping the fairy tale romance vibe ever present, and I especially liked the ‘bull-cam’ which is unique and somewhat terrifying. There are a handful of moving moments in the Levinson thread which are genuinely touching, but they’re not enough to carry the film as a whole. One bright spot is the film’s commentary and presentation of the modern art world and it is legitimately funny and spot on. As I mentioned before I question whether bull-riding is a sport per se. It does require a certain skill set and seems to have massive sex appeal. Be warned though: If you have an issue with slobber, particularity animal slobber, as I do, you will have to avert your eyes during the key sequence from which the movie takes its name. Admittedly I have a rather strong reaction to saliva of any kind, but I venture to say that even the most…undisturbed…person might reflexively dry heave at the endless ropes of bull slobber flying through the air in slow motion. It was, simply put, nauseating. All saliva aside, I wish the human and geographical beauty of this film could elevate it from its rote and somewhat patronizing story, but it can’t. There are times where no amount of western wear will cover up a total lack of backbone, and this is one of those times.
Director: George Tillman, Jr.
Cast: Scott Eastwood, Britt Robertson, Alan Alda, John Huston, Oona Chaplin, Lolita Davidovich
Running Time: 139 minutes
The Longest Ride Movie Review