Not being a fan of romance films, I always brace myself before seeing a new one. The possibility of being unwillingly manipulated by sweeping orchestral scores and saccharine stories gives me pause. On rare occasion, however, I come across a film that, while flawed, does have elements of sweet and honest love within the drama. The Longest Ride did not convert me to being a fan of romance films, but it did show me that I can enjoy parts of one.
Based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks, The Longest Ride splits its time between two love stories. In present day we first meet bookish (in behavior, not looks) sorority sister Sophia (Britt Robertson) as she is being dragged out of the house by her sorority sisters. With only two months to graduation, they want to have a little fun before leaving Wake Forest University. And where else could these southern belles spy some pretty young cowboys than at the local bull riding competition? There, Sophia inevitably catches the eye of the cutest bull rider, Luke (Scott Eastwood ). On their first non-rodeo date they seem destined for a long love, but then Luke finds out Sophia will be moving to New York City after graduation. He quickly backs off, and the date becomes icy at that point. That is, until Luke notices a crashed car on the side of the road. He heroically rescues Ira (Alan Alda), who also begs Sophia to save the box that was on the front seat of his now flaming car.
At the hospital, Ira comes to and Sophia is able to present him with his treasured box. The box is filled with love letters from Ira to his wife Ruth. Sophia and Ira form a friendship through her reading these letters aloud to Ira as he heals in his hospital bed. The film shows us a series of extended flashbacks of young Ira (Jack Huston) and his beloved Ruth (Oona Chaplin). As we get to know more about Ruth and Ira, the story between Luke and Sophia is intercut and continues to move forward as well.
The two love stories presented are quite differently, and have varying levels of success. Luke and Sophia’s relationship seems formulaic and pandering to the crowd of women who swoon over good country boys. Eastwood is a beautiful man, and the camera spends its time lingering over his abs and his Texas-tuxedo whenever he dresses up nice and fancy. Sophia is a smart city girl who came to the country for college, but has no intentions of staying there. She is interested in getting to know Luke and to learn about bull riding, but he never reciprocates the investment. Luke is kind and a gentleman, but in a broader sense he is quite selfish. He bull rides for himself, to the consternation of everyone who loves him, and has no real interests outside of his own. Overall, the film’s criticism towards Sophia for valuing her career over her relationship with Luke feels dated and out of place. The drama between Luke and Sophia, because of this, feels forced and can be anticipated by the audience long before it makes it to the screen.
In contrast, Ruth and Ira’s love story really got to me. Ruth was a tenacious character, but most importantly her love for life and art are shown as reasons that she was such a wonderful woman. Ira loved her for her independence and dedication to causes that were bigger than her. His support of her passion made their love strong and made their lives feel more important than just the two of them. This desire to experience everything the world offers them, and explore it together made Ira and Ruth’s love truly beautiful.
The pairing of what felt like a true romance (Ira and Ruth) with a cookie-cutter, Hollywood fabrication of what should be romantic (Luke and Sophia) leaves the audience with a mixed experience in The Longest Ride. You look forward to Sophia’s visits with Ira, because it means that soon Luke and Sophia’s world will be sidelined in favor of the better story in the film. When we enter Ira and Ruth’s world it is always a welcome distraction, even when their lives are less than happy.
If you are sucker for romances, anything written by Nicholas Sparks, and cowboys, the contemporary segments of The Longest Ride has been manufactured specifically for you. If you are a strong-willed cynic, like me, you should not completely avoid the film, as there is some loveliness to be found in the flashbacks.
Director: George Tillman, Jr.
Film Length: 128 minutes
Release Date: April 10, 2015
Distributor: 20th Century Fox